By Ryan Spencer
Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella will speak at the 2017 commencement, according to a press release from University President Ron Liebowitz on Tuesday, April 4.
A daughter of Holocaust survivors and expert in human rights law, Abella will be among five individuals to receive honorary degrees as part of the proceedings of Brandeis’ 66th Commencement.
Abella, Leslie Lamport, Provost Lisa M. Lynch, Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Barry Shrage will join the list of more than 500 honorary degree recipients, which includes notable figures such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Whoopi Goldberg, John F. Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt.
“Honorary degree recipients … embody the values that guide Brandeis’ mission,” Liebowitz said in the press release. “They have demonstrated a commitment to intellectual rigor, have thought critically about the issues they have advanced and have dedicated their talents and lives to repairing and improving the world.”
Abella, who was born in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany, was inspired to become a lawyer by her father, who was a law student before World War II but could not practice law in Canada when the family emigrated, according to a history provided in the press release.
At age 29, Abella became the youngest and first pregnant person ever appointed to Canada’s judiciary, and in 2004, 28 years later, she became the first Jewish woman to serve on Canada’s Supreme Court.
“I think it is an incredibly telling story, first of all how her parents survived and made sacrifices to support the family when they emigrated,” Liebowitz said in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot and The Justice, “[and her] personal story of pursuing a career that her father was denied because of bigotry, in many ways.”
Lamport, who earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in mathematics at Brandeis, won the 2013 A.M. Turing Award, which is “often referred to as the ‘Nobel Prize of Computing,'” according to the Association for Computing Machinery, which issues the award.
“It’s really interesting how our graduate programs don’t get the recognition that they deserve,” Liebowitz said. “When I spoke to [Lamport] he was really honored [to receive an honorary degree].”
“I think all of these individuals, to me, focused on one of the core values [of Brandeis] which is repairing the world, helping those who are most in need,” he continued.
Provost and Former Interim President Lynch “is a very well regarded labor economist who really brings stature to our administration and our university,” Liebowitz said.
The awarding of an honorary degree to Lynch will continue the tradition of awarding honorary degrees to former presidents of Brandeis.
Patrick was the first African-American governor of Massachusetts and served two terms. He is the chair of the advisory board of Our Generation Speaks, a program that takes place on the Brandeis campus and brings together young Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work collectively on “sustainable ventures that can create jobs, build bridges and nurture hope in their communities,” according to the press release.
The program, which concluded its first year at the end of last summer, “really did break down barriers,” Liebowitz said, discussing his experience with the program.
Shrage has served as president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), a group that has invested more than $1 billion into strengthening the Jewish community in the greater Boston area since 1987.
“[Shrage] has built a Jewish community here, through the philanthropic work of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, which is unusual in how porous it, how open it is to all denominations of Judaism but also the non-Jewish world, as well,” Liebowitz said.
The awarding of an honorary degree to Shrage coincidentally coincides with his stepping down as president of CJP, which was announced in The Boston Globe on March 23. “We did not do this honor because he was stepping down,” Liebowitz said.