Past Speakers

Deborah Bial ’87, founder and president, The Posse Foundation

David Brooks, columnist,
The New York Times

Michael B. Oren, ambassador of Israel to the United States

Cory A. Booker, mayor,
Newark, N.J.

William Schneider '66, political commentator

Thomas Friedman '75, columnist, New York Times

El Hassan bin Talal, prince of Jordan

Margaret Marshall, chief justice, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

James D. Wolfensohn, president, World Bank 

Aharon Barak, president, Supreme Court of Israel

Ted Koppel, anchor, ABC News "Nightline"

Peter S. Lynch, vice chairman, Fidelity Investments

Dr. Rick Hodes


Dr. Rick Hodes

The career of Dr. Rick Hodes represents social justice in action. A graduate of Middlebury College and University of Rochester Medical School, he trained in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

This conventional start in medicine has taken him to unconventional places over his 25-year career in Africa, both as an individual healer and a builder of networks and systems to change the delivery of health care where it is desperately needed.

For more than 22 years, Hodes has served as medical director of Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, where he treats children whose diseases and deformities — tuberculosis of the spine, cancer, congenital and rheumatic heart disease and severe scoliosis — put them at risk for suffering, marginalization and paralysis or condemn them to death.

He has adopted five young people and provided a home for as many as 20 children at a time. In an interview with author Marilyn Berger for her book “This Is a Soul,” he said that, initially, it wasn’t an easy decision. “I had serious qualms, but I thought about it for five days before I realized that God was sending me a message: ‘The Almighty is offering you a chance to help these boys. Don’t say no.’” Today they are his family.

He often houses patients after spine surgery carried out in Ghana and Ethiopia or as they recover from heart surgery completed in India. He takes in young people with deformities, finding resources so they may have corrective surgeries and helping them learn English and navigate their medical treatment.

For his work, the American College of Physicians has awarded him “Mastership,” and he is a recipient of the Rosenthal Award for creative practice of medicine. Hodes has also been named a CNN Hero.

In addition to being profiled in Berger’s book, his work is the subject of the HBO documentary “Making the Crooked Straight” and the film “Bewoket” by Sam Shnider. A third documentary, “Zemene,” is in progress.

Hodes has also served as the physician for Ethiopian immigrants to Israel (currently about one percent of Israeli citizens) and has worked in refugee situations in Rwanda, Zaire, Tanzania, Albania and Somalia, as well as in famine conditions in Ethiopia.

He is currently physician to more than 1,000 spine patients and more than 500 heart patients, and he has sent more than 270 Ethiopian patients abroad for spine or heart surgery.

Honorary Degree Citation

Leadership in service, social justice in action, deep expression of faith — your life’s work has merited all of these labels. Your personal dedication to helping children in need and relieving human suffering is an example to all of us who believe we have a duty to do what we can to repair a broken world. In one of the world’s poorest nations, you heal disease and correct deformity, and provide comfort to refugees. You have enabled Ethiopian immigrants to Israel to start new lives. The Talmud teaches us that “whoever preserves a single soul, it is as though he has preserved a completed world.” Through your work, your caring and your very life, you have preserved a full universe.

As we recognize you with Brandeis University’s highest honor, we aspire to live up to your example — one that upholds the value of human dignity and actively seeks to repair the world on a daily basis.