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Georgetown Alum Talks Law and Human Rights in Dean's Lunch Seminar - Georgetown College
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Georgetown Alum Talks Law and Human Rights in Dean's Lunch Seminar
February 10, 2011
A globe-trotting lawyer, professor, and consummate diplomat, Georgetown alumnus Mark Vlasic (B’96, L’00) has prosecuted war criminals, worked for the White House and the Secretary of Defense, and helped developing nations recover from genocide and dictatorships, most recently at the World Bank, where he helped recover stolen assets from past dictators as part of President Robert Zoellick’s first initiative at the Bank.
An adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and senior fellow at Georgetown’s Institute for Law, Science & Global Security​, Vlasic spoke to students at the first Dean’s Lunch Seminar of the semester, which brings together Georgetown College students with alumni and leading members of the Washington, DC community for lunch and conversation.

Dean Tad Howard introduced Vlasic as a man whose “experiences sound almost like those of a movie actor.” But according to Vlasic—a partner at Ward & Ward PLLC—his resume speaks more to his washouts than his wins. “When you look at people’s bios, you only see the good things they’ve done in life. You don’t see the failures,” Vlasic added, “I’m likely the biggest failure in this room.”
With a touch of humor Vlasic revealed his long history of failures and setbacks to a room full of Georgetown undergraduates. While in high school, Vlasic learned his childhood dream of flying F-16 fighter jets for the United States Air Force was impossible due to his poor eyesight. More discouragement followed, at every step of his professional career. Vlasic opined that adversity taught him a lesson. “You can’t have a life of successes without failures,” he said. “Despite all the things I’ve failed at, many of the things that I’ve worked for—they’ve managed to work out.”
Despite his setbacks, Vlasic has had a unique journey since completing his studies at the McDonough School of Business and Georgetown Law. He conducted postdoctoral research at Universiteit Leiden as a NAF-Fulbright Scholar to the Netherlands, attended the Hague Academy of International Law, worked for the United Nations, practiced law at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and was appointed a White House Fellow—after applying a second time—a post that allowed him to rub elbows with then-President George W. Bush, travel the world with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and work on Darfur-related issues with the President’s Special Envoy to Sudan. Vlasic attributed these ventures not only to “luck and serendipity” and a “bit of persistence,” but also to the moral compass and strong duty to others that he developed as a Hoya. He recalled when interviewers for the Development Executive Group (DEVEX)—which last October named him one of the “Top 40 Under 40” Leaders in International Development—asked him to explain “the ‘human rightsy’ tinge” of his work, he reflected on his time at the Hilltop and was struck by the impact Georgetown had made on his life.
“Georgetown’s a Jesuit school, and it has this Jesuit ideal of ‘being a man and a woman for others’, which is, of course, based on the verse, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’ [Romans 12:21.],” Vlasic said. “When I was at the war crimes tribunal, helping prosecute Slobodan Milosevic and the Srebrenica genocide, I spent a lot of time dealing with the darkest side of humanity—massacres, mass graves, death, and destruction—evil. When you deal with that, and the victims and their families, you truly feel that the reason you’re working nights, weekends, and holidays is that, in some small way, you’re helping make a difference in the lives of others, and you’re helping to bring a bit of justice to a world that so often has so little.” For several years Vlasic even chose working for the U.N. over working for his law firm. “It was an easy choice because money was not my motivation,” he explained. “There is something to be said about trying to be part of something greater than just yourself.”
Having long ago “decided to approach life and its choices as a series of educated guesses,” Vlasic encouraged students to immerse themselves in foreign cultures and languages, pursue international fellowships, build strong relationships with academic colleagues and professors, and to remain ambitious in their goals. He cautioned them, however, against setting their plans in stone. “Seize luck and serendipity when it happens,” he advised, “and be the ‘Man in the Arena'.” Quoting President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 speech at the Sorbonne, Vlasic suggested that students envision themselves as men and women “in the arena”—as people “who strive valiantly, who err, who come up short again and again … who at the worst, if [they] fail, at least fail while daring greatly.”
Vlasic’s advice resonated with his student audience, including Government major Beth DiSciullo (C’12). “He’s already done so much at such a young age, and yet he remains humble and personable. He seemed to be an amazing person,” DiSciullo said. “This was the first Dean’s Lunch I’ve ever attended, and his talk made me want to continue to attend them.”
--College Communications, with additional reporting by Brittany Coombs.
Photos courtesy of Mark Vlasic.
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