Past Speakers

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

Deborah Bial ’87

Deborah Bial ’87

Deborah Bial

Deborah Bial’s devotion to social justice is quintessentially Brandeisian. Born in Manhattan and raised in Teaneck, N.J., she graduated from Brandeis in 1987 and began working in the public schools of New York City. There she came face to face with the challenges of college access and completion that confront students in big city schools. She saw many talented, smart and capable young people going off to college and, too often, dropping out. One such student said to her, “I never would have dropped out if I had my posse with me.” That gave rise to the simple, elegant idea of sending a team of students, a posse, to college to back each other up. It became the basis of the Posse Foundation, which, to date, has helped thousands of young people achieve success in higher education. These students have won close to $500 million in scholarships from Posse partner colleges and universities, and the program boasts a 90 percent graduation rate.

Ms. Bial has become one of the nation’s premier education strategists, developing programming and influencing the conversations related to equity and access in higher education. In recognition of her contribution and success, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2007, and, in 2010, her Posse Foundation was one of 10 organizations that President Barack Obama selected to receive his Nobel Peace Prize award money. The White House again cited the foundation as a model earlier this year.

Ms. Bial says, “We have a critical need to nurture young leaders in the United States in every arena — education, politics, philosophy, the for-profit sector. Leadership positions are held by a still-too-homogeneous segment of our population, and we need the voices of all Americans reflected at the tables where decisions are made. Posse is helping to make that happen.”

Honorary Degree Citation

A student of great promise but from a severely disadvantaged background dropped out from what should have been a life-changing college experience. He told you, “I never would have dropped out if I had my posse with me.” Where others would have seen a tragic problem, you saw an ingenious solution. And, only two years after graduating from Brandeis, you created the Posse Foundation, dedicated to finding talented, capable students in our urban public school systems and sending them in mutually supportive teams to top-quality colleges and universities. Posse has sent more than 4,000 students to college — including Brandeis, a charter member of Posse — where they have won $485 million in scholarships and achieved a remarkable 90 percent graduation rate. A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and honored by the president of the United States, you continue to build and nurture a better, more just and more diverse leadership for America.

For your vision, your passion for social justice, and for showing us all what it means to be Brandeisian, alma mater proudly bestows upon you its highest honor.