What was your passion in fourth grade? Could you make a career out of it?
For Michael Riecken of Plainfield, N.J., a crocodile created out of egg cartons welcomed him into the fascinating and complex world of Ancient Egypt. Years later, that childhood inspiration has taken him around the world to study ancient objects of great value and significance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the country’s top universities with Egyptology programs, as well as to excavation sites, including the Temple of Mut in Luxor, Egypt.
“As a boy, I dreamed of ancient Egypt’s buried treasures,” he wrote in his law school application. “I built Lego pyramids, and imagined myself as Tut, the boy king. By the age of 10, after frequent trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was hooked by the mysteries of what knowledge and treasures lay hidden by the sands of time.”
Riecken’s latest object of interest is a Juris Doctor from Rutgers Law-Camden. A law degree will arm him with the intellectual resources to safeguard objects of antiquity or as he puts it “to protect the past.”
This act of safeguarding, though, becomes increasingly more challenging in an age when insurgencies or terrorist attacks can be funded by the same objects that he seeks to protect.
“Guns, drugs and antiquity are the top three sources for funding terrorism on the black market. This happens because the items are small, can be easily smuggled, and are often stored in places that are not well guarded,” says Riecken, who before college interned at the Met with acclaimed Egyptologist James Allen, with whom he studied for one year at Brown University.
While still fueled by his initial introduction into buried treasure, the first-year law student is well aware of the complex realities in regions where those treasures remain. In fact, his last day in Egypt, after a month-long expedition as a Johns Hopkins undergraduate traveling with mentor Betsy Bryan, was “The Friday of Rage,” when thousands of Egyptians flooded the capital’s Tahrir Square in protest of the Mubarak regime.During the early months of the Egyptian revolution, 18 artifacts were taken from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, including objects from its heavily guarded Tutankhamen collection. Once home to some 1300 objects, the Malawi Museum is now home to just 40 that weren’t stolen, smashed or burned.
“The loss of antiquity impacts the value of a nation, but the greatest loss I think is the loss of knowledge,” he laments.
A legal education, including an emphasis on property law and tax law, will help Riecken in his personal mission to serve as a steward of the past. “I chose this school because of its international reputation, the personal attention the faculty gives to its students, the smaller class size, and my desire to practice law in the Mid-Atlantic Region,” he notes. “I’m looking to guard objects from theft and provide the best stewardship possible.”