I have occasionally been asked about how I ended up at Brandeis. The people who ask me seem to find it counterintuitive that an outspoken, Ayn Rand-reading individualist who vehemently supports capitalism would have chosen this school, and then enjoyed being here. After all, Brandeis is a school based on the principle of “social justice”—which I vehemently oppose—and has a deep rooted culture of left-wing activism, advocacy for causes I disagree with and is made up mostly of people who find my views repugnant. To them, my presence here may be bizarre; to me, Brandeis University and I were a perfect match, as it was the ideal learning environment for me for several reasons. 

The first is obviously the faculty. Brandeis’ professors are world-renowned for their knowledge and loved by students for the genuine care they display in their students’ learning. Wherever formal education was concerned, this razor-sharp team of academics would, for the most part, offer clear instruction, stimulate thinking and encourage discussion. Every Brandeis student can remember at least one professor who he or she spent many hours with, chewing ideas that he or she found fascinating, being pushed to learn new ones and being taught to grow as a person and as a thinker. 

We are fortunate enough to have professors here who are willing to give students a chance—even when we are not always sure we deserve it—to prove ourselves time and time again, and help us to raise our understanding to the highest standards.

Despite the tremendous value of our formal education at Brandeis, however, my most valuable learning experience here has been from my peers and my closest friends. In fact, these are the people who I would say have been my greatest teachers.

When I arrived at Brandeis in August 2010, and over the following four years here, I’ve met a few people who fascinate me. They are the type of people whose curiosity never rests, who consider “I don’t know” to be a call to action and not a permanent state of mind. In essence, these people are thinkers.

This motley group of thinkers spanned the ideological spectrum from atheist to orthodox religious and from socialist to laissez-faire capitalist.  Not one of us shared the same set of ideas and ideals, but we were united by our constant will to discuss, question, revise and rebuild our own philosophies. 

The fact that we disagreed on nearly every crucial existential, moral and political question of our age was inconsequential in terms of friendship; such differences could only provide us with lively conversation and intellectual stimulation.

Now, as a graduate, these thinkers have grown with me into my beloved lifelong friends, and I want to share the most important lesson I ever learned from them: how to critically examine my own views and have honest debates about them without collapsing into dishonest argumentation and misdirection. I learned that in an honest debate, there are only two possible results, and both are positive. In one case, you convince a person of the truth; in the other, you learn a truth that you had previously not known or overlooked. In both cases, you hone your argumentative technique and bring your mind closer to someone who deserves your respect by virtue of their honesty. 

This is the attitude two disagreeing parties must bring with their ideas to face one another if they are to have rational opposition.

During my four years at Brandeis, I have watched in confused frustration as this idea was flouted by many of my peers. Since I publicly espouse views which are diametrically opposed to those of the majority of the student body, I have experienced much irrational opposition in which my views were fanatically demonized. I have also seen students who share my views, but fear this irrational opposition, so they keep quiet.

I have a message for those people: speak your mind. Anyone who looks down upon you, who sneers that you must be immoral for believing what you believe, who attempts to coerce your agreement by declaring that your views express some unspecified and nonexistent hatred, is only revealing their intellectual bankruptcy. They have no argument against you, and merely seek to make you feel guilty for posing your own; unapologetically stand your ground and do not blink. You will find that they rely solely on your self-doubt, and if you starve them of this lifeblood, then their façade of scornful bravado will disintegrate, and their naked intellectual vampirism will be on full display. For those who seek to better understand this phenomenon, I would recommend reading a brief essay by Ayn Rand, entitled “The Argument from Intimidation.”

Such people are not worth anyone’s time, and are not worthy of an honest thinker’s friendship. Instead, look for those people whose minds shine with the light of independent thought, those who do not look for approval at any price, but rather those who blaze trails toward the truth, even if universal disapproval is the price. 

The University is intended to be an incubator for growing minds. A growing, independent mind is easy to spot; when you see a person inexorably cutting a straight line through life, unflinchingly pursuing a goal regardless of whomever may try to impede them, you will have found your quarry. 

These men and women of the mind are the best people on earth; surround yourself with these wonderful thinkers. I was fortunate enough to have found some at Brandeis University, and my life will be forever better as a result. I wish the same to you.