Ambassador Michael Oren and Paul Simon inspire Class of 2010 in words and song
More than 8,000 celebrate university's 59th commencement
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael B. Oren, recalling his youthful experiences as a paratrooper, urged this year’s Brandeis graduates to leap fearlessly into the unknown in pursuit of their dreams.
Addressing a crowd of more than 8,000 students, faculty and friends gathered in Gosman Sports and Convocation Center for the university’s 59th commencement, Oren said: “It may necessitate a measure of bravery and a leap into the howling darkness, but I urge you to pursue your wildest ambitions.”
The ceremony concluded with a rendition by singer-songwriter Paul Simon of his classic, “The Boxer,” during which many in the crowd sang along, swayed rhythmically and clapped in time, and with a benediction by Brandeis’ four chaplains, who prayed that their unity, in the words of Rabbi Elyse Winick, would “be a glimmer of light in this world of so much darkness.”
“Whether it be teaching in an inner-city school, building a clinic in Africa, developing the world’s smallest biochip or serving as president of the United States, if that is your dream, go for it,” Oren said. “Do not let any obstacles, personal, political or economic, impede you. And once you’ve fulfilled your dreams, know that that is when you’re liable to confront the greatest challenges.”
This transformation of dreams into responsibilities confronted Joseph and Moses in Biblical times, and Theodore Herzl and Louis Brandeis in the decades when the Jewish people’s dream of return to its homeland became the reality of the State of Israel, Oren said, adding that the responsibilities that dreams impose when transformed into realities now confront the leaders of Israel and the new graduates of Brandeis alike.
For Israel, he said, these responsibilities include absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees, “sustaining a democracy in a region generally inhospitable to such systems, … defending ourselves while trying to maintain our morality, …preserving our Jewish character while respecting our vibrant Arab minority… [and] seeking peace in spite of painful setbacks and potentially excruciating sacrifices.”
Turning then to the graduates, he said: “This commencement is about you. It is about the challenges you face in graduating into an uncertain world during turbulent times and still finding the courage to dream. More than that, it is about your willingness to accept the responsibilities you will almost certainly have to shoulder once you’ve realized your dreams.”
The payback for jumping into the unknown, and for having high aspirations, is the privilege of service to one’s people and society, he asserted.
“Traveling this great nation, I’m not always greeted with ‘Shalom Aleichem.’ But along with the price” of being the target of criticism in the media and on campus “there is the inestimable privilege of serving. Whether as a soldier or an ambassador, I’ve had the supreme honor that comes with shouldering responsibilities for one’s people and for the causes of security and peace.”
Oren and Simon both received honorary degrees at the commencement, as did Partners In Health founder Paul Farmer, an eminent advocate of quality health services for the poor; Judith S. Kaye, the first woman to serve as chief judge of the highest court of the state of New York; author Antonio Muñoz Molina; and veteran U.S. diplomat Dennis B. Ross.
The Student Address, delivered by Justin Pierre-Louis, was a rollicking mix of jokes, expressions of relief at finishing an important phase of life, and determination to remain committed in the future to standards learned at Brandeis.
“As long as we live our lives fighting for what we positively believe in,” Pierre-Louis declared, “we live lives worth living.”
Click here to read a transcript of Ambassador Oren's address.