Allysha Roth's graduate address

Whoo. So, I’m going to take a page out of the book of one of my favorite professors, Michael Doonan, and start with thank-yous. Thank you to everyone who has made this day possible:  board of trustees; President Lawrence -- thank you for words, I needed those today. Thank you, Provost Lynch. You used to be my dean. All administration, faculty, and staff, for all of the hard work that you do, to make sure that we get an excellent education. And we did. Thank you, family and friends who are here to support us and celebrate us. And, graduates, take a moment to thank yourselves for the perseverance. It brought you here today, to your graduation from Brandeis University.  

In my brief two years here, I’ve gathered that Brandeis students have three things in common.  And I didn’t take a survey. This is anecdotal evidence. They seek the truth. They want to share their knowledge. And they dream of leadership. My whole life has been shaped by moments of truth. When I applied to the Master of Public Policy Program, the truth confounded me. I spent months toiling over how to prove that the organization I worked for was effective in its field, only to conclude that it was not. There I was, dedicating a year of my life to a program President Lyndon B. Johnson started 50 years ago, and was absorbed by AmeriCorps, to alleviate poverty in the United States, realizing I was completely ineffectual. I knew, with my whole heart, that no amount of funding I could secure for this one nonprofit could substantially change that reality.  But I still had hope, because I believed -- and still do -- that knowledge can change the world.

And that’s why I came to study poverty alleviation at Brandeis. I came to seek the truth, to find out how I can make a difference. Now, I showed up at Brandeis thinking I would go to class, learn, then turn around and tell everyone what I know, and the world would somehow change. I was a little naïve. I went to class, learned that almost everything I thought was good policy had a little problem called political feasibility. And I determined that changing politics could change everything. I think we said something about political polarization earlier. Yeah.

So, I’ve completed my master’s program, and it is clear that I have much more to learn before I can accomplish that. But as the flags all over the Heller School say, “Enough is Known for Action.” And this is what I know: Knowledge may be power, but you can’t spend your whole life waiting to take action until you know everything, because that’s never going to happen. When you seek the truth, you reveal your own ignorance. And even if you had all the knowledge in the world to share, you can’t trust the world to act on knowledge alone.  

It’s not sharing knowledge that changes the world. It’s the way you share it. It’s the way you infuse your unique perspective, your values, your story, into your knowledge that gives it its power. What you learned here at Brandeis may have humbled you. I certainly have been humbled. But you have to trust that, if you stand by your values and tell your story, you will make good decisions.  You have to trust that you know enough to take action.  

I dream of leadership, as I’m sure most of you do. Actually, I’m certain that all of you do, because leadership is not just being the face of an organization. It’s not just being top in your field. Leadership is wanting to be part of something bigger than yourself. It’s contributing. It’s telling your story and taking action.

Our futures are not yet decided, but we leave Brandeis University having built a foundation for leadership. We took action here at Brandeis, in the communities we touched while we were here.  And we will continue to lead by example in our fields. Whether you accept a job; sign on for more schooling; serve your country; volunteer in a distant one; or dare I say, run for public office -- yeah, you should all run for public office -- you will achieve your dream of leadership. And you will always aspire for more.

Today you donned a cap and gown and braced yourself for congratulations. Today is likely one of your proudest moments. If not, it is definitely one of the proudest moments for the people who love you. Again, thank you for being here. So take this moment to reflect on all you’ve accomplished thus far. Congratulate yourself for what you have already achieved, and aspire for more.

Congratulations, Brandeis University, class of 2015.

Categories: Alumni, Humanities and Social Sciences, Student Life

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