University President Ron Liebowitz welcomed the Class of 2025 at the Convocation ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 29. He opened by thanking the Department of Community Living and the Orientation Core Committee for orchestrating new student move-in and orientation, especially in the midst of both the pandemic and a hurricane.

Liebowitz then reflected on what makes Brandeis special, remarking on the University’s post-World War II founding by Jewish philanthropists as an institution open to all students. He explained how the University has become “a refuge and a beacon” for students of marginalized communities, particularly as it opened during a time when higher education was not as welcoming. “Here you will discover a community of diverse, bright, inquisitive, energetic and eager learners and doers,” Liebowitz said to the crowd of incoming first-years.

Liebowitz also touched upon the University’s values of rigorous academics, critical analysis and “intense argumentation [that] stems from a desire –– from a need –– to discover the truth and to better hone one’s own position through learning from dissonant views.” This tradition of debating and seeking the truth is a core value both at Brandeis and in Judaism, Liebowitz explained.

“Yours is a generation that cares deeply about making the world a better place,” Liebowitz said, urging the new students to explore and debate their interests, as well as try new things. He concluded by advising the first-years to support their fellow classmates and reach out when they need help.

Provost Carol Fierke also emphasized the value of Brandeis’ academically rigorous community and said that she was drawn to the University because of its renowned faculty and prestige as a research institution. “As a member of that community, you will be engaged in the life of the mind, and you will be challenged to be a scholar, as well as a student, contributing to the creation of knowledge,” Fierke said.

Fierke also offered advice to the new students, encouraging them to broaden their education and to be kind to one another. “Be willing to explore and to take risks to find your collection of interests, your community and your path,” she said. “Find your truth, find your passion and most importantly, find yourself.”

Next, Raymond Ou, the vice president of Student Affairs, welcomed the students. Addressing the challenges brought on by the pandemic, as well as the hurricane that disrupted move-in, Ou said that it is “the Brandesian way to actually band together and prevail despite obstacles.”

Ou then joked about his own experience as a first-year on the Brandeis campus, having started his position as Vice President of Student Affairs only two years ago. He recalled a memory of wandering about the campus looking for the “Shapiro building,” only to discover that many of the buildings on campus are named after the Shapiros, and many more share similar abbreviations. After finally admitting that he needed help finding the Shapiro Campus Center, or the SCC, Ou shared three lessons from his experience with the incoming class: “Be open to asking for help,” “Do not be afraid to look like you might need some help,” and jokingly, “Begin immediately to write a Brandeis acronym guide and submit it to a publisher.”

Rabbi Seth Winberg, Hillel’s executive director and the University’s senior chaplain, followed Ou with a reflection on the University seal and motto –– “truth even unto its innermost parts,” and the Hebrew word “emet,” which means truth. Winberg spoke about the importance of finding truth and expressed his hope that the new students will find “the truth of being able to rely on something or someone,” whether that be through family, friends, a religious tradition or a school club or team.

Winberg explained that the word “emet” contains the first letter, middle letter and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. “That’s another way of saying that we need each letter and every letter of the alphabet to arrive at the truth. And at Brandeis, this means that we need all of the letters of all of our names, and all of the individual stories of everyone here today in the Class of 2025,” he said. Winberg asked that each student be their “best self” and emphasized the campus’s supportive community of students and faculty.

Convocation concluded with a final address from Lewis Brooks ’80, the president of the Brandeis Alumni Association. Brooks explained how the community of University alumni is another resource that students can reach out to with questions. He then reflected on his memories of his time as a student at Brandeis and encouraged the incoming class to have meaningful experiences of their own. “Explore, meet people, get lost. Find your Brandeis and make your memories,” he said.