Take Nothing for Granted: Bosnia Native Prepares for Law Career to Help Preserve American Liberties

Take Nothing for Granted: Bosnia Native Prepares for Law Career to Help Preserve American Liberties

Without hesitation, Alen
Arnautovic summons the words to mind. “It’s my path in life that has led me to
appreciate the rule of law,” says the native of war-torn Bosnia. “Where I come
from, the rule of law failed. Society fell apart and neighbors turned on one

Alen Arnautovic

Arnautovic was nine years old in
2000, when his parents brought him and his sisters, Sejla and Lejla, to the
United States in search of a better life. Since that time, he has gained an
immense respect and appreciation for the rule of law in his adopted country, as
well as the tradition of law that American society has in preserving the order
of the peace, peaceful transitions of power, and the rights of its citizens to
know that which they are entitled.

Arnautovic now plans to enter a
career in law, where he will have the opportunity to help preserve those
cherished, time-honored values. He will take the next step toward fulfilling
that dream on May 23, when he graduates from Rutgers–Camden with a bachelor’s
degree in political science, with minors in criminal justice and national
security. He has been admitted to the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel

As he stands at the precipice of
his future, Arnautovic needs to look no further than his own past in order to
appreciate the American rights and liberties that are so often taken for
granted. As he recalls, he was only two years old when intense fighting erupted
in Bosnia. In fleeting thoughts, he remembers playing soccer in the street and
hearing the sounds of air-raid sirens or explosions. He recalls visiting a
local hospital and witnessing the casualties of war. “They are those things
that just stick with you,” says Arnautovic, a longtime resident of Delran. “They
aren’t clear-cut memories to the point where I can trace my steps, but they are
snapshots, pictures of what I have seen.”

It wasn’t long before his family
was forced to flee their hometown of Glamoc. Arnautovic’s father was a
self-made business owner, who left behind a bar and restaurant. “Needless to
say, by the end of the war, it was not in the greatest of conditions,” says
Arnautovic. “A lot of it was looted or destroyed.”

As Arnautovic explains, the
Bosnian War, which lasted from March 1992 to December 1995, was largely divided
on ethnic lines. Neighbors who had long lived peacefully side-by-side suddenly found
themselves on opposing sides of a bitter conflict. “Everyone could speak the
same language, but your religion or your last name could mean the difference
between whether you were ethnically cleansed from a town,” he says. According
to some estimates, more than 100,000 people were killed during the war.

Even in the war’s aftermath,
Arnautovic says, corruption was rampant, and stagnant development paralyzed the
economy. His parents decided enough was enough; their children would have a
chance at making a better life for themselves. “And of course, what better way than
the good ol’ American dream,” he says.

Arnautovic’s adopted country
would have an immediate impact on his young mind. He vividly recalls flying
into New York and, like many countless immigrants before him, seeing the Statue
of Liberty for the first time. Upon arriving, his first meal in the United
States was a pizza. “And boy was there a difference,” he says. “I knew that I
was in for a treat, and I knew that I was in for a new life here in America.” The
family quickly made their way to Maple Shade and met up with Arnautovic’s
uncle, who had agreed to be their sponsor. Shortly thereafter, the family
settled in Delran, where they have lived ever since.

Suddenly in a new home, in a new
country, Arnautovic was forced to mature beyond his years. As he recalls, he picked
up English quickly and tested out of the English as a Second Language program
after only six months. Meanwhile, his parents’ English continues to be limited,
with Serbo-Croatian still spoken in the home. Consequently, since elementary
school, he and Sejla have helped with a variety of bookkeeping tasks. “My
sister and I have been busy filling out insurance forms, paying the mortgage or
setting up a security deposit for an apartment we were renting,” he says,
adding, “I believe that the pressure of real-life situations, the
responsibility that I knew was going to be mine alone in the near future,
forced me to grow and take my school work more seriously.”

In addition to these everyday reminders,
Arnautovic’s parents also stressed the importance of earning an education as a
gateway to opportunity. “They would say, ‘Do you see what I am doing right now?
This is not what you want to be doing for the rest of your life,’” says
Arnautovic. “That really stuck with me.”

As he progressed through Delran
High School, Arnautovic excelled in a number of courses that tend to go
hand-in-hand with a law career. Honors English, AP History and civics subjects
rounded out his expertise.  He was then
encouraged by the vice principal, a former English teacher of his, to pursue
the career, believing that it would be a perfect fit for his ability to connect
with others.

At Rutgers–Camden, Arnautovic maintained
that same level of drive and determination. He is graduating not only with an
overall 3.97 GPA, but with departmental honors as well. Among his other
achievements, he was inducted into Pi Sigma Alpha, the national honor society
for political science majors, as a junior. He also recently received the Jack
Marvin Weiner Memorial Award, given to a Rutgers–Camden senior who has
demonstrated academic excellence in political science. “All of these accomplishments
have come to me as a shock, because I thought that you had to be an
intellectual phenom to achieve them,” he says. “But I feel that Rutgers–Camden
really makes things possible for those who work hard.”

Arnautovic will now follow in the
footsteps of Sejla, who was the first to graduate from college, when she earned
a bachelor’s degree in biology from Rutgers–Camden last spring. Arnautovic will
also be the first in his family to attend graduate school. Meanwhile, his
younger sister, Lejla, is still attending Delran High School.

As he steps closer to achieving
his dream, Arnautovic never loses sight of the sacrifices that his parents have
made for their children to have a better life. “I know that I need to work hard,”
he says. “I owe them that much – if not for me, then for them.”

Media Contact: Tom McLaughlin
E-mail: thomas.mclaughlin@camden.rutgers.edu