‘You Define Who You Are’: A Heartfelt Send-Off for 2018 Grads

Provost Lisa Lynch, P’17; Jay Ruderman ’88; Shira Ruderman; Heller faculty member Monika Mitra, P’21; and President Ron Liebowitz.
Provost Lisa Lynch, P’17; Jay Ruderman ’88; Shira Ruderman; Heller faculty member Monika Mitra, P’21; and President Ron Liebowitz.

It was a special Mother’s Day on the Brandeis campus on Sunday, May 13, as thousands filled the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center to celebrate the university’s 67th Commencement.

In a rousing keynote address, Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, urged graduates to develop a sense of self, ask questions, never stop learning and never stop seeking the truth.

The great-great-grandson of a Polish-American slave owner, Hrabowski at age 12 — a “frightened, chubby kid who loved mathematics,” as he recalled in his Commencement speech — decided to join the 1963 Children’s Crusade for civil rights in his hometown, Birmingham, Alabama. He and other children were arrested at the protest. At the Birmingham jail where the young marchers were being held, Martin Luther King Jr. told them, “What you do this day will impact children who have not been born.”

“I had to be taught to believe in myself, even in jail,” Hrabowski said in his remarks. “I had to be taught that I was not an animal, that I could not allow other people to define who I am. Do not ever let other people define who you are. You define who you are.”

Along with Hrabowski, Brandeis conferred honorary degrees on legendary Israeli singer-songwriter Chava Alberstein, who performed “A Prayer From King David” in Hebrew during the ceremonies; Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities; Jay Ruderman ’88, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation; and philanthropist and social activist Shira Ruderman.

President Ron Liebowitz saluted the day’s graduates, who he said represent a wave of action and change. “More than any other generation of students since the 1960s, I believe today’s graduates are more aware of and learned about the great challenges facing humanity,” Liebowitz said. “They combine intellectual curiosity and academic focus with a commitment to making the world a better place.”

Student speaker Wil Jones ’18 in his remarks acknowledged all students who have struggled financially, emotionally, socially or otherwise. Graduate student speaker Sarah Mabry, MA’18, who received a Master of Arts in global studies, reminded listeners to bring a positive influence to the world.

In all, 916 members of the Class of 2018 received diplomas. In addition, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences conferred 344 degrees; the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, 236; Brandeis International Business School, 195; and the Rabb School of Graduate and Professional Studies, 129.