Elie Wiesel to give commencement speech

by Phil Salinger | 5/2/06 5:00am

Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel will deliver this year's keynote Commencement address. The renowned author and religion and philosophy professor will also receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the ceremony on Sunday, June 11.

Also among this year's honorary degree recipients are U.S. Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and longtime Public Broadcasting Service news anchorman Jim Lehrer, who will also deliver Harvard's main commencement address this year.

Other speakers at the Commencement ceremonies include College President James Wright and the Class of 2006 valedictorian, who will be announced after spring term final grades are calculated.

When Wiesel was 15 years old, Nazis took him and his family from their home in Transylvania -- now Romania --to the concentration camp Auschwitz and later to Buchenwald. The only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust, Wiesel studied in Paris after the war and became a journalist, eventually publishing his world-renowned memoir of his war experiences, "Night."

Since receiving American citizenship in 1963, Wiesel has become one of the United States' most prominent Holocaust survivors. The Boston University professor was President Jimmy Carter's chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust and he later founded the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Wiesel has also received the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the Medal of Liberty, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and over 100 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education.

The Jewish studies professor and outspoken supporter of Israel has also advocated for many other oppressed peoples including the Desaparecidos of Argentina, victims of apartheid in South Africa and targets of genocide in Darfur.

Wiesel's dedication to service and world issues made him a good choice for Dartmouth, College president James Wright said, because many students will be able to identify with his goals for places such as Darfur.

"I think Elie Wiesel is certainly one of the great humanitarians of the 20th and 21st centuries," Wright said. "[Choosing] Elie Wiesel is a way of honoring students for their commitment to making the world a better place."

Some members of the Dartmouth Jewish community, including Chabad Rabbi Moshe Leib Gray, said that the choice was especially significant to Jews on campus, both because of Wiesel's views on Israel and because of what the choice says for inclusivity at Dartmouth.

"Elie Wiesel is an influential and respected voice on Israel," Hillel President Chase Hogle '07 said. "His views on Israel, including his condemnations of the Iranian president's recent despicable remarks, are important for Dartmouth to hear."

Other students already aware of the decision seemed pleased that Wiesel would usher out the Class of 2006.

"Elie Wiesel is very well known as someone who combats intolerance and injustice and seeks acceptance and equality for all," Mike Guzman '06 said.

The other honorary degree recipients will be The Honorable Robert Barry '56, Co-founder of the Sesame Street Workshop, Joan Ganz Cooney, Chiharu Igaya '57, former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison and Pulitzer Prize winner Maxine Kumin.

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