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Graduating students get inspiring send-offs

Barbara Mandel, who served two terms as the president of the National Council of Jewish Women, received an honorary degree during the Brandeis University commencement ceremony in Waltham on Sunday afternoon.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

On a Sunday that danced between bursts of rain and sunshine, Boston area universities lauded thousands of graduates, sending them off into the future to realize their dreams, while warning them of the steep challenges they would meet.

In her commencement address at Brandeis University Sunday morning, Deborah Lipstadt said she should be offering positive, encouraging sentiments, but she wasn’t going to do that.

“The moment and the situation we currently face,’’ she said, “demands much more than that.”

Lipstadt, who holds a doctorate from Brandeis and teaches modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, told the more than 1,000 graduates that she had never been more worried about the future of the country.


She referenced the white supremacist beliefs of the shooters who attacked synagogues in Pittsburgh and outside San Diego, contending that anti-Semitism cannot be defeated without also battling other forms of prejudice, including sexism, racism, and homophobia.

“We must recognize that we cannot be against just one ‘ism’ to the exclusion of all others,” Lipstadt told the crowd. “You cannot be a fighter against anti-Semitism but be blind to racism or, even worse, engage in it yourself.”

Lipstadt, who earned a master’s degree from Brandeis in 1972 and then a PhD in Jewish history from the school in 1976, suggested steps that students could take to combat hatred, including becoming the “unwelcome guest” by standing up to an aunt, uncle, or “hotshot cousin” who might casually purvey prejudicial views at family gatherings.

“You may not change the mind of your awful uncle, but you will telegraph a message to all the people there, especially the young people, that such talk is not to be tolerated,” she said.

At Tufts University, award-winning actor and activist Alfre Woodard told graduates to follow their passions, not a paycheck.


“You will experience a satisfaction that no amount [in a] a bank can give,” she told the more than 3,000 students graduating from the university this year.

Woodard‘s speech Sunday morning focused on the diversity, love, and purpose of the graduating class.

“It’s your world now; my generation is just living in it,” Woodard told them, calling on the graduates to do the important work of healing the nation.

Tufts University president Anthony P. Monaco called the ceremony marking the university’s 163rd commencement the “happiest moment of the academic year,” before conferring honorary degrees, including a doctor of fine arts to Woodard and a doctor of laws to Senator Edward J. Markey.

Standing just beside the campus quad where the commencement ceremony was held, Lawrence Nelson III hugged loved ones.

The 21-year-old from Georgia who graduated with a bachelor of arts in political science from the School of Arts and Sciences called his experience at Tufts “eye-opening.”

“There are so many different people here at Tufts from different walks of life.,” he said. “I met so many people that were different from me and just learning about other people’s cultures and other people’s views and learning to embrace other people that are different from yourself, is probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned here.”

At Boston University, evoking one of the school’s most famous alumni Martin Luther King, Jr. — student commencement speaker Adia Laini Turner called on her class on Sunday to “shout at the stars and scream at the sky, if you have to, because our voices deserve to be heard.”


“We, the class of 2019, have heard our collective voice grow over these past years as we have found who we are,” she said, urging her peers to use their “booming, powerful, collective voice [that] cannot and should not fall silent just because we have moved on from Commonwealth Avenue.”

Reminding the graduates of their progressive achievements at BU — including electing the university’s first all-minority student government — Turner told them that they are “the legacy of a long line of powerful voices,” most notably that of King.

“I hear Dr. King’s voice in my mind right now as I look onto the field at all of you,” she said. “He reminds us, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.’ ”

BU’s 146th commencement ceremony held Sunday afternoon started in drenching rain and ended in sunshine as more than 7,000 students in scarlet robes graduated on Nickerson Field.

Trail-blazing scientist Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, delivered the commencement address, dedicating part of her speech to the world that awaits the graduates and how they must improve it.

McNutt, who received an honorary doctor of science degree, stressed that the graduates must smartly choose what to trust and must call out false claims and untruths.

“Whether the issue is health care, economics, education, or immigration, thanks to your university education, you’ve been instilled with the larger world view, to see beyond just your own lives and that of your generation” she said. “Your choices will have profound and lasting impacts on others, near and far, and the world that your children and your grandchildren are going to inherit.”


Aimee Ortiz can be reached at aimee.ortiz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @aimee_ortiz. Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.