Dr. Rick Hodes to speak at 2013 commencement

Six honorary degrees to honor distinguished achievements in education, journalism, arts, and social justice causes

Honorary degree recipients at Brandeis' 62nd Commencement will include, from left, Vartan Gregorian, Elaine Schuster, Ellsworth Kelly, Chaim Peri and Leon Wieseltier.

Dr. Rick Hodes has spent more than two decades as a physician treating children in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Dr. Rick Hodes, who has dedicated his life to treating children with life-threatening diseases in impoverished Ethiopia, will be the 2013 commencement speaker at Brandeis University. The medical director of Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, he will be among six individuals who will receive honorary degrees at the ceremony.

Brandeis’ 62nd commencement will be held May 19 in the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center.

Hodes has spent more than two decades as a physician treating children in one of the world’s poorest countries. His work has been the subject of a book (Marilyn Berger’s “This is a Soul”) and three documentaries ( HBO’s “Making the Crooked Straight,” Sam Shnider’s “Bewoket” and the forthcoming “Zemene.” ) He has received numerous awards, including being named a CNN Hero.

“Dr. Hodes exemplifies what one person can do to heal the world,” President Fred Lawrence said. “By helping thousands of children and working to ensure that many more get life-saving or life-changing medical treatment, he reminds us that social justice is personal and that every child is worth saving.”

This year’s other honorary degree recipients:

Vartan Gregorian serves as president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, one of the nation’s most thoughtful grant-making institutions with a focus on “doing real and permanent good in the world.” He has worked tirelessly throughout his career to advocate for higher education as an essential element of a civil society. As president of Brown University from 1988-97, he led the institution to international prominence, instituting the President’s Lecture Series, presiding over the building of a residence quadrangle that now bears his name, teaching classes and directing a successful capital campaign.  He also was a Brandeis trustee from 2006-10. Prior to his presidency at Brown, Gregorian was president of the New York Public Library, which he restored to fiscal and institutional health during his eight years at the helm.

Ellsworth Kelly is an American painter, sculptor and printmaker who has evaded critical attempts to classify him as a Color Field, hard-edge or Minimalist painter. He has redefined abstraction in art, establishing himself through his drawings, paintings, sculptures and prints as one of the most important and influential artists of the last 100 years. He has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and his work is in many public collections. Two of his paintings – “Yellow Curves” (1954) and “Blue White” (1962) – are part of the permanent collection of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis. He received the Brandeis Creative Arts Award in 1963.

Chaim Peri, is the director emeritus of Yemin Orde Wingate Youth Village, a home and school environment outside Haifa, Israel, that serves at-risk and disadvantaged teenagers from around the world. Having suffered some form of trauma, including abandonment, separation and displacement, these teens find care, education, self-esteem, character building and leadership training, along with emphasis on Jewish and universal values, at Yemin Orde. A lifelong advocate for the role of education in unlocking human potential, a philosophy outlined in his book, “Teenagers Educated the Village Way,” Yemin Orde provides a deeply sensitive approach to the needs of adolescent survivors of trauma and displacement. Dr. Peri is a recipient of multiple honors from Israel’s government, such as the Guardian of the Child Award and the Exemplary Educator Award.

Elaine Schuster is a visionary community leader whose commitment to education, health care and human rights has improved the lives of the disadvantaged. She co-founded Operation P.E.A.C.E. (Partnerships in Education and Community Enrichment) in Atlanta and Boston to provide mentoring, tutoring and life-skill training for inner-city children. As president of the New England Kidney Foundation, she led efforts to pass legislation to display organ donor information on drivers’ licenses. Schuster served as a public delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and was a member of the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts under Bill Clinton. She has been recognized for her work by numerous organizations, including Franciscan Hospital for Children, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club, Big Sister Association of Greater Boston and the Massachusetts Democratic Party. With her husband, Gerald, she founded the Elaine and Gerald Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis.

Leon Wieseltier is literary editor of The New Republic and author of several books of non-fiction. In his writing, he displays a unique ability to take complex subjects and make them understandable to the general public. He also finds deeper levels of meaning in subjects that are thought to be well understood, illustrated by his book “Kaddish,” which crosses multiple literary genres. As a political commentator, Wieseltier is known for unfailing integrity in his views and their honest expression, garnering critique from across the political spectrum. In addition to writing for The New Republic, Wieseltier is a translator of the works of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai and an editor of a volume of works by Lionel Trilling.

All members of the Brandeis community are entitled to nominate candidates for honorary degrees. A committee of trustees, faculty and staff narrows down the list of nominees, which is then submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval. The president makes the final selections.

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