University selects Rosalie Abella for commencement
Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, the first Jewish woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada and an expert on human rights law, will address graduating students at May’s Commencement ceremony, according to a press release provided to the Justice by the University.
Abella is “such a genuine person,” University President Ronald Liebowitz said in a joint interview with the Justice and the Brandeis Hoot. Liebowitz noted that Abella has pursued a career her father, a Holocaust survivor, was denied because of prejudice, dedicating her work to looking out for those who “lacked the standing power to defend themselves.”
“I think her life message has been — especially in the times we’re in right now — [that] it’s important to fight for what one truly believes, which she did,” he added.
Abella, who, in 1976, was the youngest — and first pregnant — person appointed to Canada’s judiciary, helped pioneer the concept of employment equity for women, minorities and people with disabilities, according to the press release.
“Justice Abella’s personal story and legal career are an inspiring example to our graduates of what we can accomplish when one uses one’s education to the betterment of the world,” Liebowitz said in the press release.
During the ceremony, the University will also confer honorary degrees upon computer scientist Leslie Lamport M.A. ’63, Ph.D. ’72, Provost Lisa Lynch, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and Combined Jewish Philanthropies President Barry Shrage.
The choices, Liebowitz said in the interview with the Justice, are consistent with the University’s founding values, as the administration looked for people who “capture what Brandeis is about.”
Lamport, who, according to the press release, is known as the “father of principled distributed computing,” is best known for his role in the development of LaTeX. The document preparation system is most widely used for technical or scientific papers, according to its website.
“It’s wonderful that he’s one of ours,” Liebowitz said in the interview with the Justice, citing Lamport’s work as an example of what graduates can accomplish after leaving campus.
Lynch, the University’s provost, also served as the U.S. Department of Labor’s chief economist and the director and chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston prior to coming to Brandeis. She just finished a year as interim University President, serving in the role for the 2015 to 2016 academic year. In the interview, Liebowitz praised Lynch for her achievements in the field of world economics and for her dedication to the University community, noting that it will be exciting to award her a degree alongside her daughter, Julia Schiantarelli ’17.
Liebowitz also praised Patrick for his role in Our Generation Speaks, a fellowship program that brings young Israelis and Palestinians together in partnership with the University and MassChallenge, a non-profit that helps startup companies. Patrick, the first African-American to be elected governor of Massachusetts, serves as the chair of the program’s advisory committee.
“The whole idea of it is working together on projects that will help the region, both the West Bank and Israel, and, through the collaboration and working together, come the type of discussions and come the type of seeing one another differently than before,” Liebowitz said of the initiative.
Shrage, who announced last week that he would be stepping down as president of CJP, will also be recognized for his philanthropic work with causes — both Jewish and non-Jewish — in and around the Boston area.
In the interview, Liebowitz cited Shrage’s work with Catholic charities that help refugees as an example of his extensive work with the community.
“I guess he’s most well known for being somewhat of a renegade, in the sense of how he did his work. He’s very different. He wasn’t out of the traditional mold of a federation leader,” Liebowitz said. “He’s done a lot of work for the Jewish community, but he’s also extended it to other communities as well.”
But while Liebowitz explained in the interview that he is excited to hear Abella’s address and confer degrees on all the recipients, he is most looking forward to seeing families’ joy as their loved ones graduate.
“For so many families, the graduation of a son or daughter is such a happy and inspiring event, and to see that happen with the families is great,” he said. “To see the families’ reaction and to see how proud they are of the achievements of the class … is really a thrill.”