Grads: ‘leave the country better than you found it’
Brandeis graduates celebrate achievements, promise of the future at 63rd commencement
In an engaging address filled with passion and self-reflection, Geoffrey Canada called on the 2014 graduating class to work together to make America a better place for the next generation, especially the children.
“Too often, we think that we can accomplish great things as individuals, but it takes our entire community to do what is necessary in this country,” said Canada, who spoke before more than 7,000 students, faculty, families and friends attending Brandeis’ 63rd commencement ceremony at the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center on Sunday, May 18.
Canada, internationally renowned for his pioneering work helping children and families in Harlem and as a thought leader and passionate advocate for education reform, is CEO and president of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides a comprehensive range of educational, social and medical services that follows children from birth through college.
The experience of growing up in a poor neighborhood in the South Bronx, Canada said, shaped his professional focus. “I saw firsthand what can happen when people are desperately poor. Not just financially poor but poor in spirit and without hope.” The work of political and civic leaders of the 1960s, including President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., also served to motivate him.
Canada asked the graduates to make a commitment to make America a better place for its children. “I wish I could say that my generation has done better than my parents. We have not. We left you a mess,” lamented Canada, citing climate change, poverty and high incarceration rates as current issues that need to be addressed. But Canada said he encouraged by the promise of the next generation. “The best of America is yet to come.”
While Canada used his speech to inspire, he also drew some laughs when he reminded the graduates that having a Brandeis degree had unforeseen benefits. “Just by saying your have a degree from Brandeis, people will think you are really smart. If by some reason you have managed to get to here and you are not really smart, please keep that hidden from the public. Your classmates and your alma mater will appreciate that.”
For President Frederick Lawrence, this year’s graduating class marked a personal milestone - the undergraduate students were freshman when he was named Brandeis’ president. “I began with you on January 1, 2011, and I have always thought of myself as a mid-year in the class of 2014. My family and I will forever be grateful to you for the way you let us into your lives as fellow members of the Brandeis community.”
He lauded the graduates for standing up when others needed them and for addressing complex and controversial issues with respect and civility.
“As a global citizen you will be called upon now and in the future to engage in civil discourse – something that sounds simple but alas is far more complicated to practice and I fear rare to accomplish in our world,” said Lawrence. “And it has never been more needed. The essence of civil discourse is to challenge without attacking, it is to question without threatening, it is to critique without de-legitimizing another’s point of view. Time and time again, you have embraced this spirit, setting an example for all of us to follow.”
He also reminded the graduates that as they leave Brandeis, they are not alone. “There is much you take from your time here, but most of what you take is each other. As I told you four years ago, and you knew it was coming, you are an undergraduate student for four years – you are alumni for the rest of your lives.
Brandeis conferred 835 undergraduate degrees, 751 master degrees, and 97 doctoral degrees during the ceremony to students from 91 countries. More than 49 percent of this year’s undergraduate class earned double or triple majors.
Honorary degrees were awarded to Canada, Eric Lander, the founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, and Malcolm Sherman, former chairman of Brandeis’ Board of Trustees.
Ariana Boltax ’14 and Eugene Kogan PhD ’13 presented the undergraduate and graduate student addresses. Boltax shared that her studies at Brandeis resulted in more than a degree – it provided her with a life philosophy. Kogan reminded graduates that they likely have benefited greatly from someone taking a chance on them, and he encouraged them to help others by taking a chance on them when the moment arises.
The Heller School for Social Policy and Management awarded 131 master’s and doctorate degrees to students from 46 different countries. Dean Lisa Lynch gave the diploma ceremony address. The ceremony also included speeches from Bothaina Qamar MA ’14, Sarah Yehonenou MS ’14, Carmen Hicks MPP ’14 and Rebecca Herrington MA ’14 Johnny Charles MBA ’14. and Tom Mackie PhD ’14.
The International Business School bestowed degrees to 162 students from 47 nations at its 20th commencement ceremony. Eric Ganeles MSF ’14 gave the student address. Brandeis IBS Dean Bruce Magid delivered the keynote address as well as awarded the Dean’s Medal to Paul Fruitt P’ 79, a lifelong member of the Boston business community and member of the Brandeis IBS Board of Overseers.
The Rabb School of Continuing Studies awarded 74 master of science degrees in a broad range of informatics and technology management areas, 18 master of software engineering degrees, and five graduate certificates. Eric Siegel ’91, an international expert in the field of predictive analytics, which uses data to predict trends and behavior patterns, delivered the diploma ceremony address.