First-years from 41 states and 21 countries gathered together for the first time on Chapel’s field on Aug. 27 for the annual convocation ceremony. 

University President Ron Liebowitz opened the convocation by thanking the dedication of orientation leaders, staff and community advisors for making orientation possible. “I have one full year of Brandeis experience on all of you, I hope your first year is as rewarding as mine was,” he added, relaying to the Class of 2021 his observations on “Brandeis’ two most common characteristics.”

“First, there is a great passion and loyalty toward the institution,” said Liebowitz, who attested to the faculty’s dedication and care for undergraduate studies alongside the cooperation and teamwork that permeates the University. 

“My second observation: there is a special kind of openness among students and staff to discuss, … [a] passion for inclusion, openness and debate that I witnessed over my first year.” 

Liebowitz advised the first-years, “Jump in and don’t hold back … you are joining a community of excellent education, meaningful research and co-extracurricular activities.” However, he warned of jumping in too much — humorously noting the very typical Brandeisian culture of intense curiosity and overachievement, which can lead students to spread themselves thin across many commitments. 

Referring to the University’s namesake, Liebowitz said that one cannot help but feel a deep commitment to justice. He reminded the students to educate themselves about the University’s historic founding by the American Jewish community in order to understand the precedent of critical thinking and free debate set by the University’s founders. 

“A liberal arts education will challenge you to confront many long-held views. … If that is not your experience by the time you graduate, we have failed you,” he concluded. “Look out for one another and intervene with passion.” 

Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel also welcomed the Class of 2021. “You are diverse, and you are talented, and you are passionate about changing the world, in short. You are Brandeis. … You are now part of this Brandeis family, and you will never be alone,” he said. 

Flagel’s advice to students on how to get the most out of the Brandeis experience also paralleled the president’s advice, asking the students to use their education and time at the University to challenge both their personal and societal status quos.

“I want you all to be safe, but I also want you to challenge yourselves. We have a responsibility at Brandeis to do everything we can to keep you from harm, but also to keep you open to new ideas — to help you become more comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Flagel.