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Ceremony overshadowed by controversy

Published: April 23, 2010
Section: Editorials


This week Brandeis announced the commencement speaker and the list of honorary degree recipients on their website. Those being honored include a Grammy Award winner, the founder of Partners in Health, the first female chief judge of New York, an internationally renowned Spanish author, a member of the National Security Council and the Israeli Ambassador to the United States.

All in all, that is a pretty impressive list. Out of everyone receiving a degree, University President Jehuda Reinharz selects one to deliver the commencement address. This year he selected Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren served as the official spokesman for the Israeli Defense Force during the 2009 Gaza conflict. He has been in the news recently for accusing J Street, a “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” organization that advocates a two-state solution, of endangering Israel.

Regardless of what you might personally think of his policies, it is impossible to not realize this is an extremely controversial selection. Instead of having a figure to unite the entire senior class in their final moments at Brandeis, the school has chosen a man who has already proven to be a lightning rod for debate.

Looking back at the list of options, any of the other honorees would have been a more appropriate choice. Consider for a moment Paul Farmer, one of the founders of Partners in Health. This Boston based non-profit’s mission, according to their website, is to “provide a preferential option for the poor in health care” and strives to “bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them.” Their work brings them to the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Russia and the United States.

Most recently they have been heavily involved in Haiti relief efforts. Given this campus’ involvement with that mission, Farmer would have been a perfect choice to deliver the commencement address. His work is the perfect demonstration of social justice in action.

Consider Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel. He is a 12-time Grammy Award winner and one of the most successful musicians of all time. There is already a Facebook campaign through the group “Paul Simon Should Sing at Graduation 2010” to convince him to sing to the seniors. In little more than a day there are more than 350 members.

Any of the others being honored with a degree could deliver an address that would bring together the seniors in their final moments at Brandeis, sending them off on a positive note. Instead the university has chosen a figure who will not only divide those getting their diplomas but will take away from that special moment.