Commencement 2023

Undergraduate Ceremony Remarks by President Ron Liebowitz

President Ron Liebowitz addresses graduates

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


Good morning. Members of the board of trustees, honorary degree recipients, members of the Brandeis National Committee, faculty, staff, alumni, honored guests, family 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. (applause)

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. 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 help you to succeed in earning your Brandeis degrees. Please rise. (applause)

Thank you. Having done that, I now ask all of us to join in as we thank the Brandeis faculty and staff who's teaching, mentorship and support helped these graduates today succeed and earn their baccalaureate degrees. Thank you all. (applause)

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

We are fortunate to welcome a special guest to Brandeis today, Louisa Brandeis Popkin. Louisa is the great-granddaughter of our namesake Justice Brandeis and a good friend to our university. Earlier this year, my wife Jessica and I had the honor to visit the kibbutz Ein-Hashofet in Israel, which was named after Louis Brandeis. Justice Brandeis helped purchase the land for the kibbutz in 1937. Louisa lived and worked on that kibbutz during her early adulthood. Jessica and I were glad to make an in-person connection to this part of Brandeis's history, and we plan to stay in touch with Ein-Hashofet over the coming years. Louisa is also the niece of Frank Brandeis Gilbert, grandson of Louis Brandeis. Frank attended the celebration of the founding of the university in 1948 at Boston Symphony Hall and was a regular at those commencement exercises since the first one in 1952 until his death in 2022. Our history may be brief compared to other established universities, but it is rich and remains important to us, and part of that history is our enduring connection to our namesake and the Brandeis family. So please join me in welcoming Louisa to today's celebration. (applause)

And now to our graduating class, first and foremost, the entire Brandeis community is proud of you as you have reached this important milestone. You have faced significant challenges during your time here, the kind that no other Brandeis graduating class has experienced. In the spring semester of your first year, you were confronted with an interruption of your college experience when the COVID pandemic hit. It was not only unprecedented, but it involved so many uncertainties that challenged all of our abilities to be centered, let alone focused on 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 found ways to come together as a tight-knit community and to support one another despite harsh restrictions that truly tested your metal.

If your first year brought the COVID challenge, late this fall brought another challenge as one of your classmates, Vanessa Mark, died tragically in a shuttle bus accident in which many others were injured. Vanessa exemplified what it means to be a Brandeisian. She was intellectually curious, creative, and always giving of her time to engage and help others. I know that Vanessa's death continues to be deeply felt by many members of our community. Let us pause for a moment of silence to remember Vanessa. Thank you.

I know many on campus are still healing from the shuttle bus accident, but alongside the deep sense of sadness, there has also been much love, kindness, and generosity of spirit shown by the community. So many of you have helped your classmates, students and colleagues by offering your time, your resources or an ear to listen and comfort, and you've done so with profound compassion. As I said at the time of the accident, 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 prepare the world.

Your graduating class embodies and lives these values. While here, so many of you have devoted yourself to others through volunteerism with many student organizations, through our new Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation, and through your chosen course of study. Over the past four years, you have challenged yourselves and your own preconceived ideas toward gaining a better understanding of the richness of the world around you. Issues that were black and white when you left high school and arrived here, you now see as multiple shades of gray and ironically see much clearer if less resolved in your minds. You have engaged in thought-provoking dialogue and reflected on what you've learned from others with new perspectives. This kind of engagement often creates discomfort but 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 because of how you learned even more than what you learned, and contribute to helping to repair the world in whatever and whichever way you can. There is no shortage of things that need our and your attention. Increasing inequality, widespread poverty, multiple forms of hate, senseless gun violence, the accelerating impact of climate change, and deep 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 the future.

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 displayed during your time on campus. You are Brandeisians, which means you follow in the footsteps of so many who have made a difference in our world, including two of our four honorary degree recipients today soon to be honorary members of your class. 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.