Marta Kauffman ’78 H’20 reminisces on her time at Brandeis during [Re]Commencement
The [Re]Commencement ceremony honored graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021, and the ceremony featured a variety of speakers.
The University hosted its first-ever “[Re]Commencement,” giving graduates of the classes of 2020 and 2021 to celebrate their graduation. Alumni were invited back to campus on Sunday, May 22 to convene in Gosman Sports and Convention Center, granting them an almost-normal commencement ceremony. Brandeis alum Marta Kauffman ’78 H’20, who co-wrote the famous television series “Friends” and received an honorary degree in 2020, gave the [Re]Commencement address.
Kauffman started her speech with humorous disclosure: “I hate writing speeches. So be gentle, laugh when something sounds like it’s supposed to be funny.” She then told the graduates that she was not going to “tell you how to walk into the world, because you’re already in it.” Instead, she stated she would share lessons she took herself from her time at Brandeis and “held onto for the 44 years since I graduated.”
Kauffman began with some minor lessons; “learning what 420 is,” how to play “cow bingo,” and how to dance in the middle of a quad with Bruce Springsteen blaring. Kauffman then moved on to a more heartfelt lesson: the community she formed during her time at Brandeis, mentioning “Friends” co-creator and fellow Brandeis alum David Crane ’79. She joked that she spent more time with Crane than with her ex-husband, “which may explain why he’s my ex-husband.” She also spoke about her best friend of 48 years, whom she met the very day they moved into their first-year dorms.
Kauffman urged the graduates to “hold on to your community from your time together,” adding that during this “unique experience of life … you develop profoundly deep relationships.” She mentioned that by going through the pandemic together, a unique experience, these graduates are “connected by time.” She emphasized that these relationships and friendships “will be there during your happiest times and get you through your hardest times.”
The speech then moved on to another important lesson Kauffman took away from her time at Brandeis: political activism. She mentioned that during her time at Brandeis she took a Women in Literature course, which taught her about systematic misogyny, which she began to see everywhere after graduation, especially during her time writing “Friends.” She mentioned that over the course of her life, she has been arrested several times for civil disobedience: “I’m really proud of myself for putting myself on the line for what I believe in, I’m just sad that I had to.”
Mentioning the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade, Kauffman admitted to the graduates that she’s worried that “your generation feels disenfranchised. And that due to your feeling of frustrations and helplessness, I’m worried you are so disheartened that you won’t get involved.” Kauffman stressed that “change doesn’t come from you sitting on the sidelines,” emphasizing the importance of being involved, in voting, in fighting for what you believe in. “Whatever it is that gets you mad: resist, persist, insist, elect.”
Kauffman also spoke about the unexpected trajectory that so often comes in life. Chuckling, she recalled that her high school English teacher called her “the least perceptive student [she] ever had, and she would never be a writer.” Kauffman told the audience that she was certain she would be an actress but emphasized that “staying open can change your life.” She told the graduates to “keep your eyes open … life is not a straight line.” She stressed that life can change courses, and “the direction you are taking right now may not be where you end up. But it just might teach you something that will inform what you end up doing.”
Kauffman ended her speech by addressing the graduates, summarizing the main points of her advice: “So dear ones, hold on to friends, have good cries and great laughs, lift each other up, stay open, resist, persist, insist, elect, dance to Bruce Springsteen, or do whatever it is that brings you joy.”
The ceremony took place at 5 p.m. on May 22, and began with University President Ron Liebowitz addressing the graduating classes and their guests. The four 2020 honorary degree recipients were also honored. Alan Hassenfeld, CEO of Hasbro Toys, and Howardena Pindell, acclaimed artist, were not able to attend. Ruth Calderon, Israeli politician, was accompanied to the stage by Prof. Jonathan Sarna (NEJS), and Kauffman was accompanied by Prof. Alice Kelikian (HIST).
Caitlin Crane-Moscowitz ’20 sang the national anthem, and the Alma Mater was performed by the Brandeis Chamber Singers, University Chorus, and Prof. Robert Duff (MUS).
The undergraduate alumni address was given by Victoria B. Richardson ’20, who reflected on her time as a student, acknowledging that the classes of 2020 and 2021 were sitting in Gosman in “what was then the future.” She also took the time to discuss adjusting to college in a pandemic, which emerged just months shy of their planned graduation. “All of us can show you what resilience looks like,” Richardson said. She ended her speech with a wish for her class: “please be proud of yourself, keep being passionate.”
The graduate alumni address was then given by Jainaba Gaye, Heller M.A. ’21. Gaye also brought up the pandemic, specifically talking about lessons learned from a time of true tragedy. “If there is anything that the pandemic highlighted, it is the true value of time,” she said. She also added a wish for her fellow graduates: “May you have the courage to fearlessly pursue your dreams … You are worthy of celebration.”
Additional speakers included University Muslim Chaplain Harun Spevack, who gave the opening remarks, and Associate Director of the Center for Spiritual Life Lara Ericson, who gave the closing remarks. In traditional commencement fashion, each student walked across the stage while their names were announced as they accepted their diplomas.
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