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A Lesson in Expression

USC College alumnus Alex Iftimie is attending Yale Law School on a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Although forbidden in his native Romania, Alexandru "Alex" Iftimie grew up listening to Radio Free Europe, which influenced him to later study debate. The USC College alumnus is a Soros fellow at Yale Law School. Photo credit Christopher Smith.
Although forbidden in his native Romania, Alexandru "Alex" Iftimie grew up listening to Radio Free Europe, which influenced him to later study debate. The USC College alumnus is a Soros fellow at Yale Law School. Photo credit Christopher Smith.

Born in Romania, Alexandru "Alex" Iftimie was a child during the Romanian Revolution of 1989 when citizens overthrew the country's communist regime.

While Romania was in reform, the USC College alumnus remembers listening to Radio Free Europe. Even at age seven, the independent broadcast’s youth program in which French students freely debated government policies intrigued him.

After his family migrated to Canada, then to California, he realized that Radio Free Europe was likely the impetus to his love of debate. In high school and at USC, debate consumed him. As captain of the USC Trojan Debate Squad, he led the team to high placements in international and national competitions.

His success at USC helped him secure a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. The two-year fellowship is enabling Iftimie to attend Yale Law School, where he is studying international law. For 2009, the first year of his scholarship, he was among 30 students selected from 750 applicants.

The fellowship program for new Americans was established by Hungarian immigrants Paul and Daisy Soros in 1997 as a way to give back to their adopted country. The awards support graduate study by naturalized citizens, permanent residents or the children of naturalized citizens.

“If not for the debate team at USC, I would not be where I am now,” said Iftimie, a 2007 international relations graduate. “I lived and breathed debate.”

He also credits his adviser, John Odell, professor of international relations, for his accomplishments in the College: “I would not have been able to get this fellowship if I had come from another university.”

While a College undergraduate, Iftimie found time to pursue a plethora of political activities. During one summer, he interned in the Department of Trade and Economic Development, in Hidalgo, Mexico. He wrote an honors’ thesis, analyzing Radio Free Europe’s broadcasts in Romania.

“While studying international relations, it occurred to me that I didn’t know all that much about my native country,” he said. “My thesis sprang from my memories as a youth. I remember even then being told not to talk about listening to this program. If neighbors knew we were listening, they would report us to the government.”

After graduation, Iftimie served on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, first as a field organizer in Nevada and Arizona, then as an early-vote director, and finally as the campaign’s get-out-the vote director in Nebraska.

This summer, he will study law in Argentina for a month in a student exchange program. When he returns from Argentina, he will intern for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

“I would love to one day be the U.S. Solicitor General,” said Iftimie, 24. “As the chief litigator for the government defending the administration, I could again use the debate skills I learned at USC.”