Commencement 2018: 'Nothing is more important than seeking the truth'

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County, addressed the class of 2018

Freeman Hrabowski addresses the crowd during CommencementPhoto/Mike Lovett

Freeman A. Hrabowski III speaks during Commencement; click on the link above for a slideshow of more images from Commencement.

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Commencement 2018 coverage:

Reunited: Graduate from Ethiopia relishes her mother's presence at Commencement

Moms reflect on seeing their children graduate on Mother's Day

Top mortar boards of Commencement 2018

President Ron Liebowitz: This class represents a generation of action and change

Freeman Hrabowski charges graduates: You define who you are!

Board of Trustees Chair Meyer Koplow '72: You are Brandeis

Wil Jones '18: "For the students who struggled"

Sarah Mabry, MA'18 "Be the peacemakers the world aches for"

Brandeis Phi Beta Kappa inductees honored

Brandeis IBS celebrates Commencement 2018

Heller School celebrates Commencement 2018

Brandeis GPS celebrates Commencement 2018

VIDEO: Class of 2018 says 'Thanks Mom!'

Introducing the 67th Commencement Exercises announcer

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It was a special Mother's Day on the Brandeis campus Sunday, 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, to ask questions, to never stop learning, and to never stop seeking the truth.

“In your work, whatever you are doing, as a teacher, as a lawyer, a doctor, scientist, an artist, whatever you do, continue with your actions to make the point that nothing is more important than seeking the truth," he said. "We can never say it enough that we must always call it out when it is not that way.”

The great-great-grandson of a Polish-American slave owner, Hrabowski convinced his parents to let him join the Children’s Crusade for civil rights in his hometown, Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 when he was only 12 years old. During his speech, Hrabowski recalled being a “frightened, chubby kid who loved mathematics,” when he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and was subsequently jailed with other children by Birmingham police. In the cell, King told Hrabowski and the other children, “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. “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 Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities; Jay Ruderman '88, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation; philanthropist and social activist Shira Ruderman; and legendary Israeli singer-songwriter Chava Alberstein, who performed “A Prayer from King David” in Hebrew during the ceremonies.

As the processional began, families and friends applauded the Class of 2018, while songs by composer Leonard Bernstein resounded throughout Gosman. Bernstein, a Brandeis faculty member and supporter during the university's earliest years, is being remembered worldwide in a two-year celebration of the centenary of his birth. As the undergraduate Class of 2018 began to stream in, the music turned more contemporary, including songs by Pink and Counting Crows.

To showcase the talent of a graduating class that represents a generation of action and change, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz acknowledged the accomplishments of a selection of the day’s graduates, including a former Israeli paratrooper receiving his MBA and a physics major headed to Geneva to work at CERN.

“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. More importantly, I believe they are more willing to take action than their predecessors,” Liebowitz said. “They combine intellectual curiosity and academic focus with a commitment to making the world a better place. And they are following a passage of ancient Jewish wisdom, which speaks to one finding one’s unique self and sharing it with the world. From Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers, the text asks: ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?’”

Student speaker Wil Jones '18 opened his remarks with a call and response exercise with his classmates, before launching into a speech dedicated to students who have struggled, whether financially, emotionally, socially or otherwise.

"These students have made choices and reckoned with consequences many of us have yet to imagine, yet they stand here, beside us. Appreciating their struggle teaches us that the consequence of tough decisions can be high rewards," Jones said. "Through their perseverance, they demonstrate how the setback of one action can serve as the stepping stone for another. They instruct us that mindfulness can overpower negative consequence, that the power of our work lies in our intention."

Graduate student speaker Sarah Mabry, MA’18, who received a master of arts degree in global studies, focused on bringing positive influence to the world.

“May we take the peace we have found here, and bring it back out into the world with our diplomas in hand," she said. "Renewed in our faith and inspired to act, let us be the peacemakers the world aches for."

Meyer G. Koplow '72, P'02, P'05, Chair of the Board of Trustees, encouraged the Class of 2018 to continue to be involved in the Brandeis community, whether through a gift of time, enthusiasm or other support.  

"Of course, there is a physical Brandeis. But each of you know that is not the real Brandeis. You are Brandeis. So are all the classes to come as well as those that came before. So are two generations of faculty and staff," Koplow said. "Brandeis is not an impersonal thing, an object. It is people. And in the future when you act to help Brandeis, it is to help a great community of people of which each of you will always be a part. For Brandeis to flourish, those who are sitting here today must emulate the Brandeisians who have come before."

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

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