Celebrating 2021 Honorary Degree Recipient Robert J. Zimmer '68

Descriptive Transcript

Blue screen with Brandeis official seal in white on top, and white text reads: Brandeis University
Celebrating Our 2021 Honorary Degree Recipient
Robert J. Zimmer '68

Brandeis students singing the Brandeis Alma Mater in the background plays:
"To thee, Alma Mater
We’ll always be true..."

Music fades out and the screen transitions to Meyer G. Koplow in full regalia in front of a fireplace and a blue banner with the Brandeis seal.

The title on screen reads:
Brandeis University Commencement 2021
Meyer G. Koplow '72, P'02, P'05

Koplow speaks:
"My name is Meyer Koplow. A proud member of the class of 1972, and the parent of two Brandeis graduates from the classes of 2002 and 2005. I'm chair of the Brandeis Board of Trustees and I'm honored to have the opportunity to honor President Robert Zimmer upon the occasion of the receipt of an honorary degree from Brandeis University. President Zimmer and this year's recipients each represent not only the spirit of Brandeis, but embodying the perseverance that our university has had to face within their own accomplishments and leadership. For President Zimmer, this has been advocating for an equitable education for all and fighting the barriers that would otherwise prevent so many from receiving the higher level of education that they deserve. President Zimmer, I'm inspired by your many achievements and I'm honored to celebrate you today. You join an impressive list of distinguished individuals who Brandeis has had the privilege of recognizing with an honorary degree. 

President Liebowitz and Provost Fierke, by the enactment of Chapter 123 of the Act of 1951, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts authorize Brandeis University to confer honorary degrees. I have the privilege to instruct you to confer an honorary degree upon Robert Jeffrey Zimmer for his singular achievements."

Transitions to university president Ronald Liebowitz in full regalia in front of the fireplace and banner. His title reads: 
Ronald D. Liebowitz, President, Brandeis University. 

Liebowitz speaks:  
"Robert J. Zimmer. Over your long and celebrated career as a pioneering mathematician, distinguished scholar, and transformative university president, you have eloquently championed freedom of expression and robust debate. Throughout your mathematical career, which began as a Brandeis undergraduate, you solved complex problems of geometry and symmetry devising what famously came to be known as Zimmer's conjecture. You then became one of the most persuasive and principled voices in higher education. Since 2006, as president of the University of Chicago you have helped profoundly reshape the institution, and your passionate defense of discourse, argument and lack of deference in the name of learning has sparked a national conversation about the meaning and value of education. 

During your tenure as president, you have increased access to higher education for first-generation, rural and low-income students, while vastly increasing financial aid and eliminating loans from the college equation making it possible for your students to graduate debt-free. Your intellectual and academic life dazzles in an elegant geometry of imagination in quest, principle, and purpose. 

For your unrelenting commitment to an academic environment where educational excellence is available to all, Brandeis is proud to award you its highest honor.


Transitions to university provost Carol Fierke in full regalia in front of  the fireplace and banner. 

Her title reads: 
Carol Fierke
Provost, Brandeis University

Fierke speaks:
"Hello. I'm Provost Carol Fierke. I'm delighted to reflect upon the many accomplishments of our esteemed academic colleague, Bob Zimmer. Appointed in 2006 as the 13th president of the University of Chicago, Bob Zimmer is a strong advocate for access and affordability in higher education and an outspoken defender of the importance of free expression and open discourse on college campuses. 

In 2014, he commissioned a faculty committee, the committee on freedom of expression which developed the Chicago principles. These principles have become a widely adopted national model for promoting free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation in the academy and beyond. In recognition of his work in support of free expression, he was given the Philip Merrill Award for outstanding contributions to liberal arts education by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in 2017. 

Bob authored four books and more than 80 academic papers in differential geometry, ergodic theory, and other mathematical topics. He was also a distinguished professor and deputy provost at the University of Chicago before joining Brown University from 2002-2006 as the Ford Foundation professor of mathematics and provost. 

In 2013, winner of Brandeis' alumni achievement award, Bob served on the National Science Foundation's governing board from 2011-2016, and on the president's committee on the National Medal of Science from 2008-2010. Bob earned master's and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University. He's held teaching positions at Harvard as well as at the US Naval Academy and institutions in Australia, France, Israel, Italy, and Switzerland. He also has honorary degrees from Tsinghua University and Colby College. He will become chancellor of the University of Chicago in September. 

I would now like to welcome Bob's dear friends, Brandeis board members, Sylvia Neil and her husband, Dan, and Joseph Neubauer, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago, to say a few words. Bob will then conclude with some reflections."

Transitions to Sylvia Neil and Dan Fischel.
The title reads: 

Sylvia M. Neil
Member, Board of Trustees, Board of Fellows, Brandeis University

Neil Speaks: 
"Bob, Dan, and I are honored to be asked to celebrate you, our dear friend and colleague. We are so pleased that Brandeis is bestowing this honorary degree on you. You are the ultimate quintessential Brandeis graduate of all time. Proud of your roots, brilliant, successful, and committed to making the world a better place. 

Your achievements are many. An extraordinary university president, a great mathematician, a devoted father and wonderful husband, Shadi and you have a true partnership. Indeed, you may also be the coolest mathematician that ever lived. [LAUGHTER] 

During your tenure, the University of Chicago became renowned, not just as one of the great academic institutions of the world, but one of the coolest too. In awarding this degree, I hope that Brandeis students will be inspired by you. Your commitment to rigorous thinking, independent thought, respect for ideas, and the pursuit of knowledge. A clear, brave, strong voice leading the way, not just in academia, but throughout the world valuing discourse, inquiry and the open mind. Most of all, you are a Mensch. 

Congratulations and much love."

Title changes to:

Daniel Fischel
Chairman & President, Compass Lexicon
Lee and Brena Freeman Professor Emeritus of Law and Business, University of Chicago

Fischel speaks:
"Bob, [LAUGHTER] as usual it's hard to follow Sylvia, but I also want to share my congratulations. There's so many things that you've done and you've accomplished. It's hard to know where to start, but I just want to say a word or two about what you've done at the University of Chicago and for really, higher education throughout the world. 

As a former dean, one of the things that I've done is I've studied the history of the University of Chicago, and I think without question, you will go down in history and you're still going [LAUGHTER], so you still have history to go. But based on everything that you've done you'll go down in history of the University of Chicago as truly one of its great, great presidents. One of the leaders of the university that embodies everything the university stands for, everything that makes the university great, and you've made the university even greater. 

You will go down along with the great founder of the university, William Rainey Harper, as a truly transformational figure. In 100 years from now when future deans are researching the history of the university, you will be prominent among those who will be studied as one of the great men in the history of the University of Chicago. 

The other thing that I want to mention is because of everything that you've done at the University of Chicago as a leader making the university great, but also embodying the values of free expression, open exchange of ideas, you've become a model for universities everywhere. It's no accident that around the country people know of you and regard you as really the greatest living university president. For that, along with everything else that you've accomplished, you are well-deserving of this great honor of receiving this honorary degree. Bob, my close friend, our close friend, our congratulations, and we can't wait to see you and Shadi in person and celebrate this great honor. 


Screen transitions to show Joseph Neubauer, seated in front of a bookcase. 
The lower third of the screen shows a blue bar with white text that states his name and title: 

Joseph Neubauer, Chair of the Board of Trustees, University of Chicago; Former Chairman of the Board, Aramark Corporation. 

The bar and text fade out.

Neubauer speaks:
"Hello. I'm Joe Neubauer, and it's my pleasure to introduce my friend and colleague, Robert Zimmer to you. My wife Janet is a Brandeis graduate, a former trustee, and she and I have been long-term supporters of innovation at this university. I'm also chairman of the board of the University of Chicago and have had the privilege of working with Bob Zimmer almost since the first day after he became our 13th president. 

During the 15 years of his presidency, the University of Chicago has an anti-feminist among the top-ranked research universities in the United States in the world. During his tenure, the university has strengthened its position as a preferred destination for world-leading scholars, as well as gifted students. Under Bob's inspired leadership, the university has made substantial investments to fulfill the programmatic ambitions of the faculty, support the exceptional scholarship and education for its university is known, increased financial support for students, and build relationships with our surrounding neighbors on the south side of Chicago. 

Personally, I've always defined the essence of the university as great faculty in outstanding students. Since 2006, Bob's vision and leadership have enhanced students' success and opportunity. He's grown the tenure track faculty by 24 percent, created deeper engagement of our affiliate laboratories, Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Sciences Laboratory. All for the benefit of our faculty and students. Bob created Chicago's first engineering program, launched at Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, where applied science and quantum computing are just a couple of examples of how his long-range vision and can-do attitude resulted in totally new fields of inquiry not only
for the university, but for the academy, it's large. He also insisted on the value and need for arts and humanities, education, constructing a new arts building, as well as the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation among many other noteworthy innovations. 

Driven by his devotion to Chicago's core principles with emphasis on rigorous scholarly inquiry, academic freedom of expression, as well as the diversity and inclusion, Bob reinforced Chicago's distinct culture heritage while helping the institution evolve appropriately to unique challenges of our time. These many achievements require clear vision, a strong discipline team in an ever-growing list of partners and supporters. 

While he'll continue to provide leadership to the University of Chicago in his new role as chancellor, Bob would not have achieved any of these without the strong foundation these undergraduate years that Brandeis provided. I want to congratulate Brandeis University for selecting one of its own, Bob Zimmer to receive an honorary degree today. I can think of no other academic leader who pursues the Brandeis motto, truth, even unto its innermost parts, more passionately than Bob Zimmer. Thank you very much."

Screen transitions to show Robert Zimmer. He is standing in front of a maroon curtain backdrop and wearing red and black commencement regalia. 

Text over a blue bar at the bottom of the screen displays his name and title: 

Robert J. Zimmer, doctor of humane letters, President, University of Chicago.
The bar and text fade off the screen.

Zimmer speaks:
"Thank you, Board Chair Koplow, President Ron Liebowitz and Provost Carol Fierke, for this warm welcome and the generous words. I particularly want to acknowledge and thank President Ron Liebowitz. He and I have had an opportunity to discuss Brandeis higher education and the challenges and opportunities of leading these most important institutions. As an alumnus of Brandeis and a colleague, I have greatly valued the thoughtfulness, values, and wisdom that President Liebowitz has shown. I also want to thank my good friends of long standing, Sylvia Neil, Dan Fischel, and Joe Neubauer for generously participating in today's event, for their most generous words, and for their wonderful friendship over the years. 

One of the features of being at a stage of life where one is fortunate to be receiving an honorary degree, is that it offers a time for reflection on the forces that had a strong impact on how your life has unfolded. Of course, one's family, in particular parents, and those that came before, inevitably have an outsized impact. For me, Brandeis also had an outsized impact. I would point at three important ways this was manifested. The first concerns mathematics. It was at Brandeis that I first experienced mathematics in a mature form, saw the power and beauty of its multiple approaches to structure, and the sheer excitement of this remarkable area of human endeavor. I had the benefit of a wonderful mathematics faculty here at Brandeis that guided this discovery. I want to mention Michael Spivak, Al Vasquez and Dick Palais, now all gone from Brandeis, who were particularly inspiring in opening up this extraordinary world for me. I also want to mentio
n Stefan Berko, a physicist who made that subject, of course, one closely related to mathematics, come alive for me. 

The second important influence of Brandeis was an education beyond mathematics and physics, namely, the excitement of a liberal arts curriculum in which one learned to deeply appreciate context, culture, and history as important frameworks for all topics of study and analysis, has stayed with me my whole life and which I feel serves me well every day. In this regard, I want to mention professors Richard Onorato and Philip Rahv, who conveyed the joys and skills of reading, reading carefully, reading in context, and showing how careful and contextual reading greatly enhanced the enjoyment of the beauty of what was being read. I want to mention Henry David Aiken and the joy of the Scottish Enlightenment and reading David Hume. 

Third was the environment of endless discourse with friends at Brandeis. In discussing the importance of free expression and open discourse around the country as I do, it is evident that in the current period, many persons, unfortunately, seem to only feel comfortable if people have the same general views as they do, limiting their friendships and what they can learn from them. In contrast, I often recall growing up in Greenwich Village and then the tumultuous '60s at Brandeis, a time of the Civil Rights Movement and conflicts about the Vietnam War. In both of these cases, there was lots of argument, lots of discussion. Then we would all go together to play stickball or bridge if in New York, or touch football at Brandeis. Disagreements did not mean we could not be friends or close, it meant we had plenty to discuss. This tool was a valuable educational and social feature at Brandeis, one that I value and that continues to stay with me every day. 

Let me conclude by again expressing my thanks. Brandeis gave me a great deal and only some of which I have tried to indicate today. It is a moment to recognize this and express thanks for it. Likewise, I am deeply appreciative of the recognition of my work by virtue of the honorary degree awarded today, something I will always greatly value. I want to express my deep appreciation to the leadership of Brandeis, the faculty, the board, and all those who had a hand in my receiving this recognition. For today and for the past and its impact on the present and future, let me say thank you to all of Brandeis University."

Screen transitions to show Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz, seated in between a fireplace with decorative candles and a blue banner with the Brandeis seal on it. He is wearing black and blue commencement regalia.

Liebowitz speaks:
"Once again, congratulations to Bob. Now please join us for the singing of our alma mater." [MUSIC]

Slide with the Brandeis University Logo, screen text says “Commencement 2021”, “Alma Mater”, “Performed by the Brandeis Chamber Singers, University Chorus, and Alumni”, “Robert Duff, Conductor”. 

Opens to a sweeping view on the Louis Brandeis statue with a springtime campus in foreground surrounded by twenty of the The Brandeis Chamber Singers on Zoom who can be heard singing:

“To thee, Alma Mater,
We'll always be true.
Singing continues, but the inner video is replaced by more choir singers in the center singing in-person, wearing masks and social distancing. Camera moves towards the right showing more students singing on the right side before zooming in on two of the students and then moving back left.  
All hail to thy standard
the white and the blue.”
Music continues.
Shot zooms out to show the Chamber singers from above. Camera moves around to show other students.
“Proclaiming thy future,
recalling thy past
our hopes spring from
mem'ries eternally cast.
With sorrows we'll leave thee,
new worlds to create.
May deeds of thy children
make thee forever great.
May deeds of thy children
make thee forever great.”

Transitions to an aerial view to show all of the masked, in-person singers, with the zoom singers still framing the inner video. 

Transitions to sweeping view of the Louis Brandeis statue in the foreground with trees and the Shapiro Campus Center in the background. 

Fades to black.

Series of slides appear with white background and text in Brandeis blue, each with a header on top reading “Brandeis University”, “Brandeis Chamber Singers, University Chorus and Alumni”.

Transitions to first slide: “Conductor”
“Robert Duff”

Transitions to next slide with the heading: “Soprano” and the names spanned across two columns:

“Lauren Reis Barkley, 2024
Emma Leopre Calson, 2024
Christina Chen, 2019
Avery Dowd, 2018
Mercedes Elizabeth Helm, 2021
Elizabeth Grace Hilliard, 2022
Bethy Louise Huebner, 2023
Liana R Perlman, 2023
Emilia Poma, 2023
Sarah Salinger-Mullen, 2019
Rosie Rose Sentman, 2022
Sarah Elisabeth Shingle, 2022
Irina Znamirowski, 2024”

Transitions to next slide with the heading: “Alto” and the names spanned across two columns:

“Tess Elizabeth Aalto, 2022
Amber Sarah Bartlett, 2022
Aditi Bhattacharya, 2023
Aviva Ruth Davis, 2021
Tamar Forman-Gejrot, 2016
Rachel Geller, 2018
Davina Louise Goodman, 2023
Dina Gorelik, 2024
Ashley Nicole Kamal, 2022
Elana Kennedy, 2021
Alyssa N Knudsen, 2024
Hannah Lee, 2019
Sarah Lipitz, 2017
Adina Sarah Kalish Scheinberg, 2021
Aarthi Sivasankar, 2022
Katie Stenhouse, 2019
Kaylee Wallace, 2019”
Transitions to the next slide divided into two columns.

First column with heading: “Tenor” with names under it:

“Chris Hillard Martin, 2024
Milo Rosengard, 2022
Alexander Port Ross, 2022”
Second column with heading: “Bass” with names under it:
“Quinn Lucian Bonnyman, 2023
Henri Choi, 2020
Steven Hoffman, 2016
Andrew Larson, 2019
Benjamin Emanuel Maffa, 2021
Micah Pickus, 2020
Matt Connor Robin, 2022”.

Transitions to the next slide with text saying “Filmed and Produced by Brandeis Media Technology Services with special thanks to Brandeis Maker Lab”.

Transitions to next slide with bold and enlarged text reading “Congratulations Class of 2021!!!”.

Fades out.

Video ends with yearbook photo of Robert Zimmer with text beneath that says "Robert Zimmer, New York, NY, Mathematics"