June 24th, 2012
Over the coming days, the Humanities Blog will be featuring remarks given by six different students at the Humanities Commencement on May 20, 2012. These remarks were made by Michiel van Veldhuizen. Michiel received his Master of Arts in Ancient Greek and Roman Studies. He received an Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award this year, took part in an archeological excavation in Croatia, and will present a professional paper in Italy this summer. In the fall, he will begin a Ph.D. program in Classics at Brown University.
When I decided to continue my education at Brandeis, friends and family back home would often be amused by the name of this very institution. In Dutch (my mother tongue) as well as in German and Yiddish, the word Brandeis combines two seemingly opposite ideas. Brand means fire, Eis means ice. In the Brandeis archives, I actually found that the designer of our seal was aware of this, as the Brandeis seal contains three mounds of ice with three licks of fire rising from them—a literal representation of Brand-Eis.
My time here at Brandeis has indeed been a time of reconciling and transcending such seemingly opposite ideas. Not only as a level-headed Dutchman from the Low Countries now looking up at the lofty skyscrapers of the United States, but also as a student of Classical Antiquity here in the New World. I think all of us here may recognize, too, that the Humanities are about exploring, understanding, and reconciling seemingly opposite ideas. Our fields and disciplines do not stop with a neat-looking formula, or an orderly arranged table with data: we begin and end with the human aspect of the world around us.
This human aspect—whether expressed in religious, philosophical, or literary thought—continues to confuse and confound us in its diversity and difference. Yet, as students of the Humanities, we may also find with the ancient philosopher Heraclitus that “out of difference, comes the most beautiful harmony.”
Indeed, now our time has come, fellow graduates in the Humanities, not to wallow in our knowledge, nor to ascend the ivory tower of learning for-its-own-sake, but to go out into the world to build bridges between humans: bridges that connect different cultures, religions, and languages; yes, we shall build bridges to connect seemingly opposite ideas.
I am sure I speak for all students here when I praise and thank our teachers here at Brandeis for their dedication in preparing us for this task. To all graduating students: congratulations, and good luck.