UT Polish Club president Nathan Silverstein interviews with Polish TV crew

Polish Club Founder Graduates to International Stage

  • Apr 24, 2024
  • Ellen Stader

[Editor’s Note: In celebration of The University of Texas at Austin’s graduating class — who demonstrate every day that ‘What starts here changes the world’ — Texas Global presents a  series featuring graduating students  who leave a lasting impact on international education and their UT Austin community.]   

Longhorn Nathan Silverstein came to The University of Texas at Austin from Los Angeles, but it’s easy to see his heart beats in Poland, connected with his heroic ancestors as well as the modern population still reaching to secure democracy there.  

Nathan Silverstein stands behind the UT Polish Club event table

He is the founder of UT’s Polish Club, which for more than three years has brought a parade of political luminaries from Poland and Eastern Europe to speak on the UT Austin campus. This tireless work in global engagement has earned Silverstein a position as public outreach coordinator for former president of Poland Lech Wałęsa, securing and organizing worldwide speaking events for the Nobel Peace Prize winner.   

In Spring 2024, Silverstein will graduate Phi Beta Kappa and likely with the distinction of Cum Laude Ampla et Magna, earning a B.A. in government with a minor in Polish language. Texas Global caught up with him before Commencement to discuss his impressive achievements as well as the many promising possibilities that await him beyond the Forty Acres.   

Now that you are nearing graduation, as you reflect back on your time at UT Austin, what have you learned?   

I have learned an incredible amount about politics through my government major. These classes are important because they teach the underlying truths and recurring themes in all political systems.  

I’ve also learned that college is as much about the experiences you gain and the networks you forge as it is about academics. My main extracurricular experience was founding and leading the UT Polish Club. Through that process, I have formed strong connections with faculty members as well as global and community leaders — and made some of my dearest friends.   

You have a strong connection to your Polish heritage and heroes within your family and across the country. Did you have early experiences that shaped your goals in this direction?  

My grandfather Marian Grabiec is my motivation for all that I do. He was a Polish partisan during WWII and spent eight years fighting in the woods against the Nazis and Soviets. Later, he was the leader of the anti-communist Solidarity movement in his city of Gliwice, Poland, where he was the first person to be arrested when the dictatorial government imposed martial law on December 13, 1981. 

This story was central to my upbringing and is at the core of my Polish and American identities. It is the most impactful moment in my personal connection to Poland’s history of sacrifice, bravery, and freedom fighting.  

The UT Polish Club has a record of hosting high-profile lecture and panel events that explore the universality of issues and conflicts across the world. How long have you been bringing in sociopolitical leaders to speak?  

I founded the UT Polish Club in January 2021 as a UT freshman, served as the club president for more than three years, and have been bringing in sociopolitical leaders to speak since March 2022. By the time I graduate, the club will have hosted speaking events with three former presidents of Poland and three U.S. Ambassadors to Poland (one current and two former). I have also hosted events with top Polish ministers and the first female prime minister of Poland. 

Please describe the cultural learning you’ve gained during your time organizing events for the Polish Club, and the most memorable moment you’ve experienced as a result.   

I have gained a cultural, historical, and political understanding of Poland so deep that it may have surpassed my understanding of the U.S. 

Protesters carry the Polish flag through Warsaw in 2023

The time I felt most in tune with the Polish people was July 2023, when I attended a 500,000-person pro-democracy protest [and] helped parade a massive Polish flag through the streets of Warsaw. At the time, the demonstration was the largest protest in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.  

Has there been a speaker who particularly impacted you?  

The speaker whose message resonated with me the most was Mr. Władysław Frasyniuk, a legendary anti-communist Solidarity leader who spent years suffering in Polish jails without trial, his only crime being the remarkable courage and leadership he showed in fighting tyranny.  

Mr. Frasyniuk said one line that was brilliant in its simplicity yet effectiveness: “Take an interest in politics, or politics will take an interest in you.” He was reminding the audience that living in a democracy is a privilege, and it is our duty to participate in our system. 

What objectives have you and the Polish Club achieved through this work? What are you proudest of?  

Nathan Silverstein shakes hands with Polish president Lech Wałęsa

While the Polish Club is dedicated to hosting speakers with diverse opinions, we also openly promote European security, democratic values and global peace. We are living in an age where both militaristic and informational wars are being waged, and through its work, the club has promoted the cause of liberty.  

I am proudest of having hosted President Wałęsa on the Forty Acres. That event was the Polish Club’s crowning achievement and will forever be one of the most important days of my life.  

What else would you like to achieve in the future? 

I will continue trying to improve myself and the world around me. That will either come in the form of being an attorney and defending people’s rights, or serving in the Foreign Service and strengthening America’s alliances. 

If you could offer advice to an incoming freshman at UT, what would it be? 

Think of an issue you’re passionate about that does not already have a student organization dedicated to it on campus, then start and lead an organization around that issue. Other than academics, starting and leading a student organization is the most valuable way to spend your time at UT. The experiences you will gain, the connections you will make, and the amount you will learn will be invaluable.   

Silverstein recently delivered a farewell address as president of the UT Polish Club at a virtual event co-sponsored by the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies; the Center for European Studies; Liberal Arts Honors; Texas Global; the Department of Government; and the Department of International Relations and Global Studies.