Small School, Big Spirit

Brandeis’ effect on the world belies our size, a total of fewer than 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and our age, just 65 years old. The influence of our research and scholarship, as well as the education of our remarkable, diverse student body, reaches far beyond our campus and involves us in addressing the world’s most complex problems. We are a small school that makes a big impact.

Harder to capture, yet just as important, is another central characteristic of our university community. We do not just make a big impact. We have a big spirit, too.

As I travel the globe, I ask Brandeisians — from the pioneer Class of 1952 through our 2012 graduates — how many of their closest friends today are friends from Brandeis. Overwhelmingly, the answer is “some,” “many” or “most.” Brandeis has always been a place where lifelong friendships are forged. These connections benefit alumni personally and professionally throughout their lives.

Student life is a vital engine of the Brandeis spirit. I have the privilege of spending more time with our students than many of my peers — at Shabbat services; gatherings at my home; plays, concerts and athletic competitions; and awards and honors events.

In September, the entire country was able to see the excitement I witness every day, when Brandeis was one of six finalists in the “Today” show’s College Challenge, each vying to demonstrate its school spirit. Brandeis had rallied enough votes to compete alongside huge universities like Syracuse, Ohio State, Tennessee and South Florida — which have more students on campus than we have living alumni! Thanks to the creative, energetic efforts of student events chairs Rachel Nelson ’13 and Reed Zukerman ’13, and many other Brandeisians, hundreds of our students turned out for the “Today” broadcast.

Brandeis spirit is inclusive, a concept epitomized by our debate society — ranked No. 2 in the U.S. this year, behind Yale. Our debate club doesn’t hold tryouts, and anyone who wishes to join is admitted — a practice radically different from other top-ranked teams. Inclusivity, says David Altman ’15, means the club can harness what members “are good at, whether it’s emotional or logical arguments.”

The same proves true in athletics, where our balanced student-athlete ethos has been showcased in milestones ranging from the return of our competitive swimming and diving program, to our stellar showing in the 2012 NCAA Division III men’s and women’s soccer tournaments. The night the men’s soccer team earned a double-overtime win over Babson, hundreds of Brandeis students charged the field to celebrate. Longtime men’s soccer coach Mike Coven praised Brandeis’ “unbelievable fan support” when he was named the University Athletic Association Coach of the Year.

Already this academic year, our community has come together twice to deal with challenging weather, in the form of Hurricane Sandy and a record-breaking blizzard that reminded some of us of the legendary Blizzard of ’78. Students rose to the occasion; even the seniors’ 100-day countdown celebration went on as planned. Students also engaged in some very creative snow play (see the photo gallery at Some alumni who were here in 1978 got into the act, commenting on sledding photos on Facebook and engaging in a spirited debate over the relative aerodynamics of various styles of cafeteria tray.

As I write this, Brandeis has received a record number of applications for our Class of 2017. While our admissions staff makes some difficult choices, we are reminded anew that our distinctiveness arises from our community, where people know one another and value each individual’s particular assets and talents.

At Brandeis, serious scholarship, a deep and abiding commitment to social justice, high-level athletic and artistic skill, and lighthearted fun coexist in a vibrant display. This makes us special — a small school with a very big heart.

Frederick M. Lawrence