Ron Liebowitz Delivers Commencement Address

Descriptive Transcript

President Ron Liebowitz is dressed in blue academic regalia at a podium. Behind him is a blue backdrop. Inset in top right of the screen is a sign language interpreter in a blue blouse against a black background.


Ron speaks:

Good morning. On behalf of the faculty, staff, and trustees of the university, I'm delighted to welcome all of you to the 70th commencement ceremony of Brandeis University.

First and foremost, congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2021. Graduating amid the challenges of the past year is no small feat and yet you arrived at this day and have done so in an exemplary way. In the face of adversity and loss in a time marked by pandemic and social upheaval you have pursued your education with zeal, curiosity, and intelligence. You can and should take great pride and the determination and resilience you have shown throughout your time at Brandeis, particularly during the pandemic.

These are qualities you might never have known you had and there are ones that will serve you well throughout your lives. I want to recognize the parents, grandparents, family members, loved ones, and friends who have helped our graduates reach this milestone. You have played an important role in making this day possible. On behalf of the faculty and staff who have taught and gotten to know and appreciate these students over the past few years, thank you. Your support was critical to their success.

I would also like to take a moment to offer a special welcome, as I've done in past years, to Frank Brandeis Gilbert, the grandson of Louis Brandeis, our namesake, and to also Frank's wife, Ann. They have been committed partners of our university from the beginning. Frank attended the university's opening convocation at Boston Symphony Hall in 1948 and until a few years ago, attended every commencement ceremony since the first one in 1952. It is a true honor for Brandeis to count both Frank and Ann, among our dearest friends. They connect our institution to the legacy and values of Justice Brandeis and his great contributions to American jurisprudence, democracy, and civil society.

To our graduating class over the past four years and especially over the past 15 months, you've become experts at navigating the ever escalating challenges of this era. These have been harrowing times. As you look to the future, it is too easy to focus on the obstacles your generation will face. But despite the value and power of realism, I urge you to avoid getting stuck in this perspective.

Instead, think about all the opportunities before you and how no previous generation has been as prepared as yours to use its access to knowledge, its skills, and tools to research, learn and discover solutions to whatever stands in its way. I say this because yours is a generation like no other. Not only are you equipped with a defining virtues of a liberal arts education, being broadly educated and possessing the ability to analyze problems and solve them from multiple ways of knowing from studying the arts, the humanities, the social sciences, and sciences. But you're also able to deploy a skill set that no previous generation could.

You are truly digital natives. Criticism from boomers like me, and even from younger adults, perhaps your parents have focused on the many downsides are unregulated, highly tech-dominated lives. Yet that very same technology, especially combined with how your liberal arts education developed your flexible, adaptable, and probing minds, is a powerful combination for creativity and problem-solving. The likes of which previous generations did not possess.

Already, during your time at Brandeis, you have synthesized these attributes and deploy them to turn what might have been a lost year of learning into a year of accomplishment and success. Presented with the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic and unique demands of hybrid learning. You adjusted on the fly as faculty with significant support from our graduate teaching assistants, redesigned their approach to teaching, research and mentorship. But a large part of your academic success this past year was the product of your own ability to engage with technology and adjust to new and untested pedagogical strategies.

As all of you adapted to new modes of learning, community building, and co-curricular life, you also organized so effectively using social media and other digital tools to help turn the social upheaval experienced around the country into well-coordinate demands for action and accountability, including, and especially here on our campus. I have great confidence that you have what it takes to confront and overcome many of society's challenges and their cascading consequences.

As you have learned and experienced, there are many, including climate change, inequality and poverty, the erosion of democratic institutions, the polarization of American society, militarization as a means to resolve conflict and hate in all its forms. This last challenge defeating hate in all its forms might be the toughest to conquer. Yet it is likely to be what is required to tackle successfully many of the other challenges. It cannot be one from which we and you shy away.

Just within this past year, we saw hatred in the form of racism on full and open display. When a year ago, this coming Tuesday, George Floyd was murdered. We saw it too over the course of the year aimed at Asians and Asian Americans. We saw it this past week with multiple beatings of Jews identified by their keepers in cities across the globe.

The racism that has outlived slavery for almost 150 years. The deep xenophobia on earth by scapegoating for a global pandemic and the millennia-old anti-semitism most recently exercised as a protest against Israel's right to exist, need to be challenged and countered along with all forms of hatred.

As alumna, Deborah Lipstadt in her 2019 commencement address here at Brandeis, underscored, 'If we're going to fight prejudice, we must fight it across the board. You cannot be a fighter against anti-semitism, but be blind to racism or even worse, engage in it yourself. You cannot fight racism, but be blind to anti-semitism or even worse engage in it yourself." This particular challenge beating back hate is a challenge given the university's history and the student body's historic deep interest in social justice that you are likely to most naturally engage.

Brandeis is committed to doing more in the coming years. The university will soon announce the launch in partnership with the foundation of a co-curricular pilot program whose mission will be to fight hatred of all kinds. It will include a content-rich curriculum, rely on student expertise in the use of social media, and involve peer-to-peer engagement through a student ambassadors program with the goal of working with multiple campuses if the pilot is successful.

Daunting as the previously mentioned challenges are hammered home all too often and too often dangerously miscommunicated by social and the mainstream media. Your generation has the incredible opportunity to turn the doom and gloom narrative into one of positivity and success.

I will wager that many in this graduating class be the baccalaureate, masters, or doctoral students will make ground-breaking discoveries in basic science and medicine. Create new forms of art, literature, and human expression. Introduce innovative ways for wealth creation that will lead to growing prosperity enjoyed by a much larger swath of humankind, and shared far more equitably than is the case today.

I know this is likely not only because I have witnessed all that you have achieved over the past four years, but also because of the many similarities between this moment and the moment that led to the improbable creation of our university 73 years ago.

Shaped by the wake of World War II, The Holocaust, and the rising demand for higher education across America. Brandeis was established by eight Bostonian Jewish families and was instantly an institution unlike any other. We should never forget that the university's founding was an antidote to anti-semitism and strict quotas which prevented Jews from attending the leading colleges and universities in the United States. Such prejudice, bigotry, and exclusivity extended to other marginalized groups, blacks, immigrants, those with political viewpoints outside the mainstream and in many colleges and universities, women. Yet Brandeis was from its very first days, open to all qualified students, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, political beliefs, or any other personal marker. This counter-cultural approach to higher education was considered radical at the time. But our founders forged ahead with their bold vision for the promise and potential of a more inclusive model for our university forever in the pursuit of truth even unto its innermost parts.

Shortly, we will hear from Bryan Stevenson. An extraordinary man who has made his life's work to pursue truth. This mission is one you have already taken up at Brandeis as students and it is one you will in all likelihood continue to pursue.

Graduates, I am optimistic about our collective future because of what you and what your generation represent. I am confident that your education here has prepared you well for the next chapter of your lives. I wish you every success in your endeavors. I look forward to the day when your creativity, discoveries, innovations, and leadership across many fields and roles in society have a noticeable impact on our world. I believe that will be sooner rather than later.

Best of luck class of 2021. I know you have taken advantage of all that Brandeis offers and I thank you on behalf of so many for all you have given to this university. Now your alma mater. Congratulations.