Sen. Marco Rubio, the junior Florida senator, announced his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination on Monday evening at Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower. The 43-year-old Miami native is the first University of Miami School of Law alumnus to run for the nation’s highest office.
Rubio was graduated from the UM School of Law cum laude in 1996. He is the third Republican to announce, and the second Cuban-American in the race to date.
Rubio told supporters, as the son of immigrants, he is “uniquely qualified” to understand the needs of all Americans, but especially those with the hope to provide a better life for their children.
“Too many of our leaders and our ideas are stuck in the 20th century,” said Rubio, a first generation Cuban-American. “If America dreams become impossible, we will have become just another country.
“Yesterday is over and we are never going back,” he said. “I live in an exceptional country where the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and the same future as those who come from power and privilege.”
Rubio’s speech delivered a message of achieving the hope of all immigrant parents – the promise of the American Dream for their families. It was rife with references to “immigrant and exiles” roots and a call to action for “our generation to lead the way to a new American century.”
The packed gathering of supporters in the flag-decorated Freedom Tower’s main hall cheered Rubio, many holding up cellphone cameras or red and blue campaign posters reading marcorubio, A New American Century.
Rubio’s political career began with his election to the West Miami City Commission. He was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2000 and was the first Cuban-American to serve as Speaker of the Florida House in 2007. Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2011.
While at UM School of Law, Rubio was active with the Hispanic Law Student Association, Litigation Skills Program, Mock Trial Team, and International Moot Court.
“It is a unique honor for the law school to have an alumnus running for president of the United States,” said Edgardo Rotman, professor of international and comparative law and faculty advisor to the international moot court program during Rubio’s law school years. “It is not surprising that it is Mr. Rubio. He was quite taken with politics, as I recall, and a leader in many aspects of student life.”
Rubio’s Miami roots run deep. His parents came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1956. His father worked as a hotel bartender; his mother worked as a maid. The family eventually settled in West Miami and Rubio attended South Miami Senior High, where he played football. He was awarded a Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida before attending law school.
When a law student, Rubio interned in the offices of U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and ran Sen. Bob Dole’s Miami-Dade presidential campaign. He was awarded the University of Miami Law Alumni Association Achievement Award in 2005. Rubio again returned to the law school in 2006 as the commencement speaker, and in 2012 to introduce presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a campaign rally at the BankUnited Center.
“Never has our country and our society been in more need of leadership than it is right now,” Rubio said to the 2006 graduating class. “In all the dramatic moments in American history, leadership has been provided. And that is required once again in a society that is frankly not conducive to leadership.
“And you can only find true meaning and purpose in your life if you are a part of something greater than yourself,” he said.
The Freedom Tower in downtown Miami was a fitting backdrop for Rubio’s formal announcement. The 17-story tall Spanish Renaissance-style landmark is the Cuban-American equivalent of Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty. It served as the Cuban Assistance Center processing political asylum claims at the height of the Cuban exodus and resettlement for refugees from the island nation. According to the National Parks Service, “Freedom Tower stands tall as a symbol of hope and freedom, and the firm belief that democracy should be available to all who fight against tyranny and demagoguery.”
Rubio lives in West Miami with his wife and four children.
Catharine Skipp can be reached at 305-284-9810.