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Watch Illana Spector '11 deliver the student address.

Student Address by Ilana Spector '11

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Ilana Spector '11 addresses her fellow graduates.

As I stand here thinking of what I would like to say to the Class of 2011, faculty, family and friends within the Brandeis community on the day of Commencement, ideas flood my mind. How I would feel today is a question that has existed and lingered in my mind since freshman year. Would I be nervous? Excited? Proud? Would I have regrets? And how can I express all that Brandeis has taught and given me through a Commencement speech?

Well, I can’t and I am not even going to attempt to try. Brandeis and its community have given me more than I am even aware of, and trying to teach or impress is not my goal today. Instead, I am going to be real. I am going to read the speech that I typed in the Goldfarb Library, and I am going to tell you what is on my mind and in my heart in the hopes it might evoke any reaction in you, for you, to help ease the process of graduating and excite you for the world we are all about to enter together.

As graduation approaches, feelings of elation, pride and anxiety do surround me. They creep up on me when I least expect it, at the school cafeteria I find myself amused by the same food I have been eating for the past four years, wondering where my 2:00 a.m. snacks will come from in the real world. The map of this campus, its hilly snow-filled winters, ice-crystal trees, colorful falls and gorgeous springs calm me. I know where I am going… whether it is to the top of Rabb, Usdan or Sherman, and where I have been — Massell, the Castle, the Village, the Mods, Shapiro, the gym. There is a quiet satisfaction I feel from having known so well so many locations within a place where I am surrounded by familiar faces. It is Brandeis. And it has been a great home.

Brandeis professors have pushed me to question. Brandeis students have pushed me to search for answers. I have philosophized about life… maybe more than necessary: why we are here, what we should make of this world, how to find happiness.

I have questioned morality — different theories of ethical behavior within an egalitarian or utilitarian framework. I have questioned justice — what it means to live in a just society, and whether or not the U.S. justice system provides us with a fair process or a flawed method which we all simply have come to embrace. Pondering and questioning, ideally, leads one to act. Today, on a day we will remember without much clarity, I beg of you this question.

Question the world you enter and the places you go. Question the people you meet and the systems you become a part of. Consider them, fully. Get to know their perspective, their side. Embrace a different viewpoint. And then stand in the middle between your old and your new perspectives and choose the one which reflects the true you. Choose the side which you can almost objectively believe in time and again without any outside factors pushing you towards a decision, but with all outside factors taken into consideration. Choose the
path — the job, the life, the location and the company which simply feels right. Act from your heart and you will always be right.

Brandeis has taught me open-mindedness. It has opened a world for me and all of its students in which awkwardness is the norm and normality is unusual. It has allowed us to recreate identities for ourselves outside the confines of the small towns many of us came from and be surrounded by the most unique special and talented group of people in the world. Okay, I am bias, but certainly a progressive and open forum in which every individual is appreciated is a sacred community. Hold onto this mentality. Take it as a goodie-bag as you leave this school. Do not forget that people as kind, courageous and wonderful as your classmates truly exist.

Keep them alive on a daily basis as you may walk in separate directions, by keeping yourself open-minded, considerate and unique. Do not lose your sparkle because the world might sometimes seem dimmer. And do not lose youthful curiosity to the ease of conformity. Stay in touch! The world is almost too interconnected, which is something which frankly disturbs me. But I would prefer that, and keeping as many of you as possible in my life, to the contrary.

From the moment I stepped onto this campus at admitted students’ day, I noticed one major reason why I loved this school, aside from my delusional belief — with the owl mascot and the castle — that Brandeis was actually Hogwarts, and I was going to learn magic here; and that was pajamas. People here were relaxed. They went to lunch in slippers but class in jeans, and they spoke with confidence and drilled their professors for a full (instead of accepting a partial) understanding of the coursework. This atmosphere fostered a reality in which the bottom line suggested, that no matter what, we are all okay. It is okay if you are up three nights in a row crunching for exams or writing papers and ordering Dragon Chef. And it is okay if you work tirelessly but you still could have done better. Here, we could fall on our faces but be helped up by friends who again reassured us, that as long as we simply are, we are okay.

The world is overwhelming. Scary. And at times, unkind. But we, here and now, are better than okay. We are leaving a fabulous fantasy bubble with diploma in hand, a ticket to our future which does not expire. Brandeis showed us that life is more of a game than anything else. We made it from freshman level to sophomore level to junior level to senior level — and just because we won this game (seniors let me hear you!) does not mean that it is game over. The world will be full of hurdles and obstacles to climb, duck under or jump over — but even though it may feel like you have lost all of your lives and your saves are all gone, every day is a new opportunity to re-start and succeed.

As an avid Pac-Man player, I have realized that even if you have the skill to succeed, sometimes a blue blob that was going to give you points will in fact turn into a monster and eat you. In other words, skill seems to prove much less important than drive. Once you have done your research and learned the rules of whatever field you plan on entering, whether it be medicine or research, journalism or art, performance or mathematics, business or law… you can then use that, your own will, discipline and persistence to excel. That combined with intellect is a fierce combination. And you will excel. You can always shift gears or directions, but the optimism and fearlessness you might feel today will always exist deep inside yourself. Today, on the day of your graduation, of our graduation, I hope we can access this feeling with full heartedness and exhilaration for the next levels.

From the bottom of my heart to yours, I wish you all the very best of luck as your Brandeis achievements come to fruition in a world which continues to be a game and in which you continue to succeed. I feel so grateful to have known and grown so much from all of you. Congratulations to the Class of 2011. We did it!