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Commencement Remarks

Commencement Remarks

Nasya Nachmit Miller and Dr Hal M Lewis

Education That Makes Room for the Views of Others

Commencement remarks by Spertus President and CEO Dr. Hal M. Lewis (above with Nasya Nachmit Miller) to graduates and their guests on December 4, 2016.

Good morning and welcome to the December 2016 Commencement Ceremony at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. Allow me to begin by offering my personal congratulations to our graduates and their families.

As our graduates know, the decision to return to serious academic studies, long past the age most people have left the classroom, is a serious, demanding, and often under-appreciated endeavor. And while today’s focus is largely on our graduates, we must acknowledge that serious adult learning is not something one does alone — more often than not it requires the support and encouragement of family, friends, co-workers, and employers, to whom we also express our gratitude.

And, as I hope our graduates will agree, they owe a significant portion of their success to the nurturing, guidance, and occasional “tough love” of their professors and mentors. Their tireless efforts on behalf of our students make Spertus Institute a very special place.

Let me be clear. Graduate level Jewish Studies is not for the faint of heart. A Master’s or Doctorate in Jewish Studies or Jewish Professional Studies is a rigorous pursuit, in which success is measured by more than simply having an opinion and voicing it.

A graduate education cannot be reduced to seeing the world through our own personal biases and preoccupations. Saying: “This is my opinion and I need neither justify it nor hold it up for scrutiny” may be the way many people approach discourse, but it is a path to nowhere. Indeed, the real product of advanced studies is not the diploma. It is learning how to listen, and how to challenge ourselves when confronted with alternate perspectives.

Graduate studies means learning how to weigh evidence and push ourselves beyond that which is comfortable, even to the point, every once in a while, of changing our minds.

Contrary to what some would prefer, a graduate classroom is not a self-reinforcing refuge in which we sit securely, discussing our opinions, not facts, protected from ideas and points-of-view that are not our own.

Far from being a safe space, an institution of higher learning ought to make us uncomfortable long before it sets our mind at ease. Sanctimony and self-righteousness are signs of the uneducated, irrespective of how many degrees they may hold. Arrogance and cocksureness, these ought notbe the prerequisites for, or the products of, higher education.

Irrespective of your political proclivities, you cannot help but notice that ours is an era in which fewer and fewer people possess the tools or the inclinations to confront thoughtful opinions that run counter to their own. This is not about having the courage of our convictions and being able to argue for them with passion. It is about forcing ourselves to get out of our own intellectual comfort zones. To talk with and learn from those who see the world in ways we do not. 

The great Peter Drucker cautioned his students that most things we are sure we know to be true turn out not to be so. Those who have studied leadership at Spertus know that of all the attributes our tradition links to successful leaders, none is more important or transformative than humility. Anavah, in Judaism, is not simply a matter of polite demurral or reining in our over-sized egos. True humility in leadership means a willingness to ask more, and tell less. It requires the ability and the self-awareness to say, “I think I am right, but I might be wrong.” This is the true sign of a graduate-level Jewish education. Humility of this sort is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. The opposite of humility, according to our sages, is not self-esteem, but pride.

Students who bring to the table of academic discourse a level of doubt, not insecurity, but an awareness that theirs is not the only view that matters, that there is a difference between opining and learning, these are students worthy of the Spertus tradition and Judaism’s as well.

On this day, and every day to come, we want you to be proud of your accomplishments — certainly you and those who love you deserve to feel enormously gratified. But as Judaism teaches us, pride left unchecked leads to arrogance, and closes us off from others.

On behalf of the faculty, administration, and board of Spertus Institute we hope that your Spertus degree will inspire you to greater levels of humility. Humility that obligates you to continue learning, because as the Hasidic masters taught, if you think you are finished learning, you are. And, humility that makes room for the views of others; that forces you to re-evaluate your deeply held beliefs in light of new learning and new insights. To each of you, graduates and loved ones, mazal tov and congratulations.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dr. Hal M. Lewis

Dr. Hal M. Lewis is Chancellor and Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Spertus Institute and principal consultant for Leadership For Impact LLC, a leadership consulting practice that serves the needs of nonprofit executives and their boards.

For ten years, he served as Spertus Institute's President and Chief Executive Officer of Spertus Institute. A recognized expert on leadership, he has published widely in the scholarly and popular press and is a member of the faculty of the Center For Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. His books include Models and Meanings in the History of Jewish Leadership and From Sanctuary to Boardroom: A Jewish Approach to Leadership. You can follow his blog at Leadership for Impact >

Congratulations to our Graduates

Degree of Doctor
of Jewish Studies

Moses Judah Rosenwasser

Degree of Doctor of Science
in Jewish Studies

Maya Avinadav
Alicia Gejman

Degree of Master of Arts
in Jewish Professional Studies

Joshua Brent Gibbs
Marla Susan Goldberg
Anna Gorbikoff
Deborah L. Holstein
Nasya Nachmit Miller
Lynnley Kadar Rothenberg
Dore Lindsey Tarr