'Run to do good...Get your hands dirty'

Brandeis' 62nd commencement a day of inspiration, thanks and joy

Photo/Mike Lovett

The keynote speaker at Brandeis’ 62nd commencement told a personal story that resonated deeply with the university’s social justice commitment and risk-taking traditions as he encouraged the Class of 2013 to “Run to do good…Get your hands dirty…Wear out your shoes” making the world a better place.

Rick Hodes, a heroic physician who has spent the past quarter-century in Africa working with severely afflicted children, started his adult life as a geography major who hitchhiked through California and Alaska before deciding to be “a doctor in a place where I was really needed.”

In 1985, after medical school and stints in Bangladesh and India, he arrived in Ethiopia to teach for a year. He has been there ever since, serving Ethiopians migrating to Israel and a steadily widening group of refugees suffering from AIDS, hepatitis, spinal deformities and many other ailments. He has made numerous adoptions, and learned much about life, practically and spiritually.

Hodes acknowledged that “serial adoption is probably not the answer to spine disease in Africa,” but said, “one thing I’ve learned: Open your home. It changes everything. Open your home, and soon your heart is open as well.”

Citing Mother Theresa and Maimonides, St. Francis and hockey great Wayne Gretzky, he urged graduates to “take your shots.” There is a statement in the Talmud that “one good deed leads to another,” Hodes said. “Whatever we do has spinoffs and side-effects…There’s a spiritual chain reaction.”

Hodes spoke in the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center, where more than 7,000 students, faculty, families and friends celebrated the awarding of 850 bachelor’s degrees, 803 master’s degrees and 93 doctorates. The Brandeis undergraduate proclivity for double majors was much in evidence, as 47 percent of the members of the Class of 2013 took double majors, up eight percent over last year.

Hodes’ remarks fit seamlessly with those of President Fred Lawrence, and both men were warmly applauded.

“From the perspective of today, I think the right question is not 'what have I learned?’ though it is related to that,” Lawrence said. “The right question is `Who have I become?’ or better yet, `Who am I in the process of becoming?’”

While there would be many different answers among the graduates, he said, a part of everyone’s answer would be “I am a Brandeisian,” and he elaborated what that means.

“It means that you recognize opportunity,” Lawrence said, “and that you are a leader…Brandeisians are people who take risks, who do things that challenge and even scare them.

“Finally,” he said, “Brandeisians, following the lead of our namesake, Justice Louis Brandeis, know that social justice is not an abstract theory, but is a way of life.”

Lawrence thanked Malcolm L. Sherman, the outgoing chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees for exercising truly Brandeisian leadership in the face of economic challenges and leadership transitions. He also thanked Dr. John Hose, aide and adviser to Brandeis presidents for the past 30 years, who is retiring at the end of June.

Sherman told the graduates that while he didn’t have to worry about his future, he had much in common with them. “We have all tried to uphold all the values that make Brandeis great,” he said. “We have tried to leave this place better than we found it.”

Honorary degree recipients, in addition to Hodes, were Carnegie Corporation of New York President Vartan Gregorian; painter, sculptor and printmaker Ellsworth Kelly; director emeritus of Yemin Order Wingate Youth Village Chaim Peri; visionary community leader and co-founder of Operation P.E.A.C.E. (Partnerships in Education and Community Enrichment) Elaine Schuster and The New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier.

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management awarded 180 degrees to students from 40 different countries. Commencement speaker Vartan Gregorian challenged graduates to be on the forefront of social justice and civic engagement.

“You will be among the ranks of leaders and citizens who make our economy viable and strong but our society just,” Gregorian said. “You’ll be the leaders who breathe life into our American ideals and find new ways to bring us together as one nation, one people and one humanity.”

Brandeis International Business School (IBS) conferred 198 degrees on graduates representing 50 countries during that school's 19th commencement exercises.

Prudential Retirement Vice President Amy Kessler '89, MA '90, who was awarded the Dean’s Medal for her business accomplishments and contributions to the IBS community, spoke to graduates there about the concept of intelligent risk.

“In taking any risk, understand the risk fully, never bet the farm, and follow through to manage the risk you take,” she said. “The question is: Are you prepared to take some risks? And can you separate the intelligent risks from the not-so-intelligent ones?”

The Rabb School of Continuing Studies awarded 68 master of science degrees in a broad range of informatics and technology management areas, and 34 master of software engineering degrees.

Categories: Alumni, General

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