I recently attended a dedication ceremony at The Dodd Center for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut where President Biden addressed a new generation of activists, students and faculty. The President shared a deeply personal message about the importance of public service while honoring the Dodd family who have been close friends and political allies for decades.

The event commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust and the President invoked the consequences of ignoring hate speech, lies and violence by remembering his father, a devout Catholic, telling his children at the dinner table that the Nazi trains bearing people to certain annihilation in death camps should have been bombed at the start of the war as soon as the allies knew of the final solution. He taught his children that “silence is complicity.”

The day was sunny and long lines waited for their chance to hear and see the President. When I left my room in the morning to walk over, I was stopped four times by state and campus police who had set up a large perimeter to keep the Presidential entourage safe. Details of the actual start time were kept to the last minute, people had lined up hours early as if waiting to see their favorite celebrity.

Demonstrators vied with heavy secret service presence as we waited to enter. They chanted slogans and denounced the Biden record on a collection of issues: water sovereignty, immigration policy, Haiti, statehood for Puerto Rico and vaccine mandates. There were drive-by trucks trolling Trump flags, fife and drum corps and lots of home-made signs.

The President arrived in one of five enormous helicopters landing on the roof of a parking garage a few hundred yards away. It was very impressive, the crowd watched silently and in awe. It was a reminder that the office of the Presidency carries more than just its occupant.

At times, the loud protests made me angry. They got in the way of the idealism I wanted to feel for a few hours. But in his remarks, President Biden reminded all of us that however imperfect America has been, our democracy is one nation built on the toil and hope of everyone who comes here.

The President warned that today there are fewer functioning democracies in the world than at any time in the past 15 years, with a rise of authoritarianism, demagoguery, racism and the violent suppression of human rights spreading.

The Dodd Center for Human Rights contains the collection of letters and papers of Thomas Dodd who served as the Executive Trial Council for Nazi Criminality at Nuremberg in 1945-46.

At the end of World War II, with 20 million people dead and 6 million Jews deliberately murdered by the Nazi’s, Prime Minister Winston Churchill suggested the 20 high level defendants (Nazi generals and leaders) be lined up and summarily executed. Stalin wanted a brief show trial and executions, but U.S. Supreme Court Justice Peter Jackson had hired Thomas Dodd who had spent 15 months in Europe documenting the genocide and violations of human rights by the Nazi’s and together they argued successfully for a full War Crimes Tribunal. The 20 men who stood trial at Nuremberg were forced to listen to extensive testimonies as a full record was created of their barbarism.

Thomas Dodd felt that the world deserved a record of what had happened, that truth coupled with accountability would set an important precedent for generations to come by establishing an international legal framework for bringing to justice those who disregard the human rights of others. It is this same animating idea that has led to the creation of the International Court of Criminal Justice administered through the United Nations that has brought dictators and genocidal criminals to justice.

Truth, accountability, empathy and service, these are fundamental to the functioning of our democracy and these are the values that define human rights for the next generation. The President called on UConn students to engage with the world and to put their skills and educations to work for others.

I have my own history with the Dodd Center, having donated a library of child labor photos and videos that were the product of my 30-year filmmaking partnership with journalist and photographer Robin Romano. As I sat in the audience, surrounded by UConn students who have come to the university from all over the world, I saw the hope and determination in their eyes as the President spoke. The President’s natural empathy for others ran like a current through the day. It was touching and it renewed my spirit and commitment to the work of protecting children’s rights.

Len Morris is co-founder of Media Voices for Children. He lives in Vineyard Haven.