May 17, 2009

Please note: You are viewing an archived Bucknell University news story. It is possible that information found on this page has become outdated or inaccurate, and links and images contained within are not guaranteed to function correctly.

[X] Close this message.

By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- Elie Wiesel recalled a day during his childhood in Transylvania when a maid who had worked for his family snuck into the ghetto to warn the Wiesels, "Don't go."|| Commencement audio clips and photo galleries

The woman said she had a hut in the mountains where the family could stay and be safe. But at the time, the Wiesels did not know that leaving their home would mean meeting unthinkable tragedy in a place called Auschwitz.

"If we'd known, we would have been saved. That has haunted me to this day," Wiesel said to a group of several thousand people assembled in Bucknell University's academic quadrangle Sunday morning for the University's 159th commencement. "Remember that it is possible by a kind of indifference to do so much to help evil triumph. Never be indifferent."|| See complete Wiesel text

Thousands of family members and friends joined Bucknell's Class of 2009 on the quadrangle. About 900 undergraduates and 40 graduate students received degrees. Of the undergraduates, about 750 were conferred degrees in the arts and sciences. Another 140 received engineering degrees. Degree recipients represented 38 states and the District of Columbia and 15 countries.

This year was the first in which the graduation ceremony was broadcast live on the Internet. Nearly 1,100 visitors watched online.

Honorary degrees
President Brian C. Mitchell presented honorary degrees to Lauren P. Breakiron, Class of '52, who has given back to Bucknell through donations that have supported financial aid and modern facilities; Gary A. Sojka, who served as the University’s 13th president from 1984 to 1995 and "raised the University's profile of academic excellence" and oversaw growth of an endowment that will strengthen the position of the university in the future; and Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who has been a "passionate advocate for justice and equality."|| See complete Mitchell text

Wiesel is the author of more than 50 books, including the world-renowned Night, a memoir of his experience in Nazi concentration camps. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and shortly after that formed the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. 

Overcoming adversity
Born in 1928 in Sighet, Transylvania, now part of Romania, Wiesel was 15 when he and his family were deported by Nazis to the concentration camp Auschwitz, where his mother and one of his sisters died. Wiesel survived three other concentration camps, including Buchenwald, where his father died shortly before the camp was liberated in 1945.

He studied in France and became a journalist after the war and first wrote about the Holocaust in 1954. Wiesel became a U.S. citizen in 1963 and received numerous honors, including the chairmanship of the President's Commission on the Holocaust from 1978 to 1986.

Wiesel has been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University since 1976. Previously, he was Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York and the first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought at Yale University from 1982 to 1983.

A 'moral dimension'
Wiesel encouraged Bucknell's Class of 2009 to use the knowledge they have gained at the University to examine the world. There should be a "moral dimension" to every decision they make. And they should remember to "think higher and feel deeper," he said.

Mitchell also told the new graduates to continue to ask questions as they begin the next stage of their lives.

"We trust that you will leave this beautiful campus with an appreciation for the old, an appetite for the new, an enthusiasm for the diverse and an ability to adapt to anything," Mitchell said. "Perhaps more so than you recognize at this thrilling hour, you are prepared to think, lead, serve, explore and make a difference in your community and in your world."

Bringing it home
Class of '09 speaker Stephanie Rink encouraged her classmates to remember that Bucknell is, has been and always will be their home, and that their experiences at Bucknell are "the beginning of our potential." Home, she said, is not necessarily a physical location. || See complete Rink text

"Today, not only do we celebrate overcoming the obstacles that have challenged us, but also must acknowledge the lessons and growth that come from each new experience," Rink said. "It is the people and experiences that accompany that place that truly make a home. Each of us has been impacted by what we have learned, what we have accomplished, and who we have interacted with. Each of us has made an impact on this campus."

The Class of '09 joins more 49,000 living Bucknell alumni. Bucknell graduated its first students in 1851, when it awarded seven undergraduate degrees at what today is known as Taylor Hall. Commencement has been held on the Academic Quadrangle since 1970.

Contact: Division of Communications