Michael Sullivan recalls that he was an average student while at Needham High School (NHS). In his own words, “the concept of ‘studying’ to me – meant worrying about upcoming tests – as opposed to reading the material and preparing for the exam.” That recollection is hardly in keeping with the renowned international attorney and human rights lecturer he has become since graduating in 1984. Now years later, Michael returns to NHS with a resume that is distinctly exceptional, with award-winning work and clear dedication to paying it forward by helping others.
Michael recently joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and is serving as a member of the Special Monitoring Mission in eastern Ukraine. Prior to signing on with the OSCE, he served for over three years with the U.S. Department of State as the Rule of Law Director for Regional Command South in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Other notable service includes working in Baghdad assisting the Iraqi Constitutional Drafting Committee with drafting language for the new Constitution, and working as a human rights reporter (for Nobel Peace Prize winning Physicians for Human Rights) in Kosovo during the time of the Racak Massacre in 1999.
While at NHS, most of Michael’s energy went toward sports and art classes. He was Captain of the Track & Field team (and State Champion), and was a member of the Varsity basketball team, and Student Advisory Committee. He is appreciative of the range of academic and social experiences, all of which were formative in one way or another. “The totality of this experience affected me as a person and added to any career success I have had. More importantly – it helped me deal with the failures – which, with many of us, certainly outweigh any career successes.” Ms. Burke a NHS teacher had particular influence on Michael. He was a C+ student (at best) in her advanced writing class and to encourage Michael, she would say “Grab on to the highest rung on the ladder that you can reach– and pull yourself up.” It is a quote that has stuck with him through life and has always served him well.
Michael earned his B.A. from Providence College; M.A. from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy (Tufts University); J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law; and following law school, he was awarded a Fellowship to the Salzburg Global Seminar focusing on the Social and Economic Dimensions of Human Rights. Michael gives back by working with under-represented communities and has taught English as a second language to the Vietnamese community in Dorchester. He has received numerous awards for his work on rule of law and human rights and has published several books and articles as well. He was awarded the State Department’s Superior Honor Award in Afghanistan which is presented to individuals in recognition of a special act or service or sustained extraordinary performance.
Michael’s message to students is “you can do anything — but you can’t do everything. Do what you like now – and when what you like changes – recalibrate. Everyone changes. Everyone goes through stuff. It’s all fine.”
Michael currently lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine.