Commencement 2023

Graduate Ceremony Remarks by President Ron Liebowitz

President Ron Liebowitz addresses graduates

Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz delivered remarks during the Graduate Commencement ceremony on May 21, 2023.


Thank you. Thank you and good afternoon.

Members of the Board of Trustees, members of the Brandeis National Committee, faculty, staff, alumni, honored guests, families and friends of our graduates, and most especially the graduates of the Class of 2023, it is my distinct pleasure and honor to welcome you to the 72nd Commencement Ceremony of Brandeis University.

The students who we recognize today have worked hard to reach this milestone. At the same time, we must not let this occasion pass without recognizing all those family members and friends whose devotion and support have contributed to all that we are celebrating here today.

I'd like to acknowledge one particular family this afternoon, and more specifically, one mother in the audience. Mikenya Ashby is with us to celebrate, Mikenya is here to celebrate the graduation of her daughter, Ronunique Clark, who is earning her Master of Public Policy from the Heller School. A mother of four, Mikenya had two of her children early in her teenage years, which slowed her educational journey. But today, like her daughter, she becomes a college graduate. Mikenya should be celebrating receipt of her Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Sector Management at Cal State Northridge's commencement today, but instead she chose to be with us to witness and celebrate her daughter's achievements.

Mikenya, congratulations on your degree. I know that Ronunique is grateful for your presence today and the great support you have given her along the way. Now as I like to do each year, I ask all of our graduates to please stand as you are able, turn to your loved ones and join me in thanking those who helped you to succeed in earning your Brandeis degrees. Please rise.


Thank you and thanks to them.

Having done that, I now ask all of us to join in as we thank the faculty and staff at Brandeis whose teaching, mentoring and support helped these graduates today succeed and reach today's milestone. Thank you faculty and staff.


And last but not least, I also want to take a moment for us to thank the members of the Brandeis facility staff and many volunteers whose weeks of preparation have made this weekend possible. Please join me in thanking our dedicated staff and volunteers as well.


And now to our graduating class. The entire Brandeis community is proud of you as you have reached this milestone. You have faced significant challenges during your time here. Many of you were confronted with an interruption to your studies when the COVID pandemic hit. It was not only unprecedented, but it lingered and involved so many uncertainties that challenged all of our abilities to be centered, let alone focused on advancing one's studies.

Yet, you adapted and persevered with an openness to new ways of learning and a willingness to go with the flow without knowing when things would return to normal. You also experienced other challenges beyond COVID.

As one of your fellow students, Christian Yemga, a graduate student at the International Business School and a 2011 Brandeis alumnus, died in an automobile accident. Christian exemplified what it means to be a Brandeisian. He was intellectually curious, passionate about his studies and business, and always had time to help others. I know that Christian's death continues to be deeply felt by members of our community. Let us pause for a moment of silence to remember Christian.

(Pause. Blue screen appears with white writing that says: In Memoriam CHRISTIAN YEMGA ’11, IBS MA ’13. Screen fades and returns to Liebowitz at podium)

Thank you.

During the pandemic, you continued your work in laboratories and libraries and completed internships both on campus and throughout the community. Many of you were supported by the university's connected PhD grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which encourages and supports multiple and non-traditional career paths. However, few of us or the foundation when it awarded us the grant, could have envisioned just how non-traditional your path to your graduate degree and postgraduate plans would be. Yet, I'm hopeful that these experiences the past few years have indeed prepared you for a variety of career choices and unforeseeable curve walls.

I've learned that many of you will be starting jobs in the academy, but also in biotech, in nonprofit organizations, in government, in journalism, to name just some of the fields that will ultimately be influenced positively by your work and your presence. You also found ways to come together as a tight-knit community and to support one another, even with the harsh restrictions that tested your mettle. And despite the unprecedented isolation during your studies, you supported one another and you did it with great compassion. Knowing this community, I wasn't surprised by your commitment to one another, but I was and I remain to this day very much moved.

This year, Brandeis will celebrate its 75th anniversary as an institution that, from its beginning, provided opportunities to those who had been largely left out of higher education. It has taught scores of students who have gone on to leave their mark on the communities in which they live and work. Since its founding by members of the American Jewish community in 1948, our university has been animated by a set of millennial old Jewish values, a reverence for learning, critical thinking, and a commitment to help repair the world.

Your graduating class embodies and lives these values. So many of you have devoted yourself to others through volunteerism and through your chosen course of study. During your time here, you have challenged yourselves and your own preconceived ideas toward gaining a better understanding of the richness and complexity of the world around you. You have engaged in thought-provoking dialogue and reflected on what you've learned from others with different perspectives. This kind of engagement often creates discomfort, but it is the best way to learn how to counter the divisions within a society in which so many have lost the ability to engage those with differing views.

I hope that as you leave Brandeis, you will take with you what you have learned and build on it, confident in yourself, more because of how you learned than what you learned, and contribute to helping repair the world in whatever and whichever way you can. There is no shortage of things that need our attention. Increasing inequality, widespread poverty, multiple forms of hate, senseless gun violence, the accelerating impact of climate change, and the general societal divisions that dominate our national and international politics, all of these provide daily reminders of how much work we have ahead of us.

But because you have been educated to think critically and act compassionately, and because of your generation's unprecedented focus on the need to address the world's pressing challenges, we should all feel a good dose of optimism about our future.

So, to the class of 2023: I wish you all the very best as you leave Brandeis and embark on the next chapter of your lives. We'll be watching with great and abiding interest as you engage the world with the same energy, curiosity, and care for others that you have displayed during your time here on campus. You are Brandeisians, which means you follow in the footsteps of so many who have made a difference across many professions and in all corners of the globe.

Congratulations and all the best of luck to each of you. We look forward to welcoming you back to campus soon and often. Thank you.