They came to the Heller School of Social Policy and Management from across the globe—from Ghana to Indonesia, from Israel to Jamaica—to learn how to make their communities healthier, stronger, and more just.
At the Spingold Theater this month, the Heller School celebrated the Class of 2013’s commitment to social justice and civic engagement. Commencement speaker Vartan Gregorian, the president of the philanthropic Carnegie Corporation of New York, called the graduates “ancestors in training” and urged them to leave the world a better place than they found it.
“What have you done to deserve your ancestors?” Gregorian asked the graduates. “What will you do as ancestors of future generations?”
Gregorian, an Armenian born in present-day Iran, has long been an advocate for higher education. He was among the six honorary degree recipients at this year’s commencement ceremony. He was the president of Brown University from 1989-97 and president of the New York Public Library from 1981-89. He also served as a Brandeis trustee from 2006-10.
In his address to Heller graduates, Gregorian stressed the importance of reaching out across economic, cultural, and political divides to build stronger, better informed, and more engaged democracies.
“You are the people who will break down the walls that we have constructed to separate ourselves from each other,” Gregorian said. “Cynicism has become trendy. Cynicism has fostered dissolution with our institutions, politics, and policies just at a time when our nation is facing great challenges. The Heller School has inculcated you against cynicism, against narcissism. It has given you the education and the tools to know that you must never give up on yourselves and you must never give up on America or the world.”
Gregorian singled out international students and immigrants, calling on them to continue and strengthen the bonds they made while studying in the U.S. “Whether you remain here or return to your native countries, you have the obligation to build bridges between [your] nations, [your] societies, and the United States, and visa versa,” Gregorian said. “Those of us who come from developing countries have yet another obligation, a very weighty one, in the work towards creating a better quality of life for those at home. … After all, we represent the hopes of a better future both in America and in the world. “
Gregorian praised the graduates, calling them the leaders of the future. “You will be among the ranks of leaders and citizens who make our economy viable and strong but our society just,” Gregorian said. “You’ll be the leaders who breathe life into our American ideals and find new ways to bring us together as one nation, one people, and one humanity.”