Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation Program (CAST)

Vice President Dan Feldman's address to CAST 2017 graduates

April 28, 2017

First of all, to Ashley, Ayelet, Mauria, Morgan, and Sara, and to Cindy, Tom, and all of the faculty and staff who are the heart of CAST: Congratulations!

In the next two weeks, we’ll all hear the word “congratulations” used a lot. As I thought about it, it struck me that I wasn’t really sure what that word “congratulations” is actually intended to convey, beyond just recognizing an accomplishment — as in “job well done.” I was curious about its origins…so I let my inner etymologist out, and I looked into it.

And I learned that the word congratulations shares a common Latin root with the words grateful and grace [gratus: which means pleasing, or dear, in the sense of something that’s precious]. And in its origin, to congratulate someone means “to express joy at their happiness,” “to feel joy together with them.” It’s an expression of connection and empathy. How perfect — for this occasion and for CAST as a program!

When I was in college, there was nothing remotely like CAST. But the idea of creative art as a vehicle for social transformation has been with us for a long time. That has always made great sense to me, because I think works of art — in whatever form — are fundamentally issuing an invitation to people: to open their minds and to open their hearts; and that’s the soil that empathy grows in. I think those things are the essential starting points for authentic and profound connection and engagement with others. And that connection and engagement, that empathy, seem so foundational for processes of social transformation and social justice.

The students with whom we’re celebrating today have been the recipients of a tremendous gift by virtue of their participation in CAST, with all of the hard work and dedication that involved on their parts. It’s a gift from everyone involved together in making CAST happen, including all of the students. And like a lot of gifts, the more you use it and the more you build on it, 
the more the gift is amplified and the more good can flow from it.

Inspired by CAST, and recognizing that words are constantly evolving, I feel like it’s appropriate to expand on that earlier definition of congratulations, building on its associations with gratitude and grace, and with connection and empathy.

Because beyond just feeling joy with you, we (because I’m sure I don’t speak only for myself in this) also wish you the determination and strength to amplify the gift you’ve received and the work you’ve done in CAST. We wish you an ongoing desire and passion for social transformation, and the growing knowledge, skills, and abilities, to create and to spread shared joy, to work toward and to create peace, and to help create more empathy and more fairness — in your lives, in the communities around you, and in the world. I think these days a lot of people are feeling especially keenly how rare and how precious those things are.

So with this expanded definition of congratulations — as a charge and as a mission — I congratulate you all, again, and I wish you the very best on your journeys.

Dan Feldman came to Brandeis in 1999 and served as vice president for planning and institutional research from June 2010. Before coming to Brandeis, Feldman was a faculty member in fine arts, first at the New York Academy of Art and later at Cedar Crest College in Pennsylvania. At the latter, he also served as director of multimedia development and then as associate vice president for information technology, in charge of academic and administrative technology. Feldman is a practicing visual artist and has exhibited nationally and internationally. He is also coauthor of a widely used commentary on Dante’s Paradiso.