Brooks guides 2011 graduates in path to success
In eclectic commencement ceremony, Yo-Yo Ma performs, Reinharz honored and Spector emphasizes Brandeis values - Photos from commencementPublished: May 22, 2011
Section: Summer News
Graduates should focus their lives around a problem, rather than a career, and learn to cherish relationships over success, New York Times columnist David Brooks said at Brandeis’ 60th Commencement ceremonies inside the Gosman Athletic Center Sunday morning.
“I think it’s a mistake to ask yourself ‘what career do I want to have;’ it’s better asked ‘what problem is life summoning me to tackle,’” Brooks said. “The value of your life will derive from how fully you tie yourself down to a problem.”
Click for more pictures of the commencement ceremony.
The morning also featured a musical performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who received an honorary degree from university President Fred Lawrence.
Brooks told graduates that American culture has become too obsessed with material and commercial success.
“We’ve learned that the relationship between money and happiness is weak,” he said. “The relationship between friendship and happiness is strong.”
The key to an enjoyable life, Brooks said, lies in marriage, not in one’s career.
“If you have a great career and a bad marriage, you’ll be miserable. If you have a great marriage and a bad career, you’ll be happy,” Brooks said. “I tell educators they should compel every student to major in marriage.”
Unlike today, in the 1960s, college graduates typically used their degrees to earn a job, then got married and bought a home before turning 30, Brooks said. Today, graduates embark on a variety of career paths in their 20s.
“Everything will be contingent and uncertain. Over the next several years, you will be compelled to go hunting for commitments,” Brooks said. “Most of all you’ll have to figure out how to tie yourself down.”
Brooks also critiqued the American culture that demands children to be involved in as many activities as possible.
“Young Americans today live the most supervised childhoods in American history,” Brooks said. “The kids are raised for six-figured incomes and ecological sustainability.”
He said that it is the liberal arts education and social skills graduates gain from Brandeis that they will use most as they begin their careers.
“There’s a big difference between getting a good GPA, which requires you to do well across a range of subjects, and making a commitment to the world, which calls on you to be maniacally focused on just one subject,” Brooks said.
University President Fred Lawrence told graduates that, despite the challenges of a country and world still recovering from the economic recession of 2008, the skills of a liberal arts education will help them to succeed.
“Change brings great potential but it also brings great anxiety,” Lawrence said. “Your training here at Brandeis prepares you for a world that we literally cannot imagine.”
Lawrence explained that the skills acquired in a Brandeis education—communication, analytical thinking and problem solving—will help students even as they are unsure what their future jobs will require.
Outside of the classroom, Lawrence said that Brandeis students have learned to grow emotionally and to take risks. “Emotional intelligence,” or “the willingness to engage in real relationships and build real communities” is another skill that Brandeis graduates possess, he said.
Ilana Spector ’11 delivered the student address and told students to believe in the values they learned at Brandeis and use them to question what they discover.
“Question the world you enter and the places that you go. Choose the side which you can almost objectively believe in time and again,” Spector said. “Do not lose your curiosity to the ease of conformity.”
Spector said that the emotions overwhelming students at commencement should guide them to feel confident in the future.
“You can always shift gears or directions, but the optimism and fearlessness that you may feel today will always exist deep inside yourself,” Spector said.
In addition to Brooks and Ma, other recipients of honorary degrees included Thomas Buergenthal, a professor of international law who served on multiple U.N. human rights and truth commissions; Nancy Gertner, a federal judge and former criminal defense attorney; Errol Morris, who produced documentaries about former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the Iraq War; and former university President Jehuda Reinharz.
Sunday marked Lawrence’s first commencement ceremonies as president of Brandeis. He took over as president on Jan. 1, when Jehuda Reinharz stepped down after more than 16 years.
Lawrence told the graduates to take risks as the leave Brandeis and remember what the university has taught them.
“Is there any greater risk to take in this society than the sheer risk of being yourself?” Lawrence asked.