Liebman wins competition to speak at commencement

He plans to assure class of 2012 that it has made its mark

Photo/Asher Krell

Liebman appeared in 'Urinetown: The Musical,' produced by Tympanium Euphorium last fall.

Being the one student who will represent a graduating class of 825 may seem a daunting task, given that they hail from approximately 53 countries and 43 American states, and speak some 37 languages. But there are more similarities than differences among Brandeisians says Daniel Liebman, who has been chosen by his classmates to deliver the Student Address at this year’s commencement.

Students are already aware of what Brandeis has done for them, says Liebman — from teaching critical thinking skills and capacities for scholarly inquiry to forging enduring bonds of intellect and affection with professors and each other. It’s what the class of 2012 has done for Brandeis that Liebman will ask his classmates to ponder.

“You are not the same person you were four years ago; and as a result, this university is not the same place that it was four years ago,” he plans to say at commencement. “Think about what you have done for Brandeis. Indulge me for a moment. I guarantee that you have left your mark in some way or another.”

The honor of speaking at commencement is open to everyone in the graduating class. It begins with a call to write and submit a speech by the end of February. Usually there are 25 to 30 applicants; this year, there were 27.

Next, a committee comprised of four members of the senor class, three faculty and one staff member, read the entries and rank them.
The rankings are tabulated and used to narrow the entries to 10 or fewer. These are posted on the Student Affairs website for the senior class to vote on. Students get 48 hours to choose their top three. The vote totals are used to narrow the entries down to five.

The committee, which is overseen by Rick Sawyer, vice president for student affairs and dean of student life, then listens to each student deliver his speech, and the committee votes on who to recommend to  the university’s president for final approval.

“One of the cool things about commencement, at least for me, is that it makes you think back over the past four years,” says Liebman. “The school wouldn’t have been the same place if all of us weren’t here. My speech tries to get each person to think about the way that they’ve made a difference. How each person has changed this place and that we can rest comfortably knowing that we’re going to create change moving forward as well.”

He says he chose not to highlight accomplishments of individuals and instead give broad examples so everyone could think of something she or he did.

Once he learned about the commencement speech opportunity Liebman, who enjoys performing for audiences and has been active in student theater productions throughout his Brandeis career, began to carry around a notebook and write down his thoughts.

“The idea came in the middle of Professor Stephen Whitfield’s 20th century American culture class, which focuses on different individuals who have made a difference,” says Liebman.

The cool thing about Brandeis students, he says, is there are no slouches on campus; Brandeis students don’t often brag about things that they do, so you don’t realize until you start talking to them that they’ve done really unbelievable things, he says.

And that includes Liebman, though he doesn’t say that. In addition to his theater work, he plays softball and is very involved with the Waltham Group, where he coordinates hospital volunteers.

“The typical Waltham Group member is like a Brandeis student on steroids,” says Liebman. “You hear the word social justice more in your four years here than you will for the rest of your life.”

Liebman says Brandeis has exposed him to opportunities that he had never envisioned before he came.

“I knew that I liked government but I’d never looked at public health and policy,” he says.

While Liebman says he doesn’t feel his character has changed over the past four years, he’s definitely become more self-assured in his ability to get things done and in who he is as a person.

“I’m more open about who I am,” says Liebman. “In high school I was more careful. I was never a conformist, but sometimes I was a little different around certain groups of people than I was around others in order to fit in.”

He’s also become more at peace with the idea that he will find a fulfilling career, no longer obsessing as he did when a freshman about the future. This summer he will begin working as a research assistant at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is considering applying to medical school.

“I’m a much more confident person now than I was when I arrived,” says Liebman. “Brandeis has been good to me.”

Categories: General, Student Life

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