June 23rd, 2012
Over the coming days, the Humanities Blog will be featuring remarks given by six different students at the Humanities Commencement on May 20th 2012. These remarks were made by Njelle Hamilton, who completed her Ph.D. in English. She came to Brandeis from Jamaica by way of France, hails from a proud family of teachers and educators, and in addition to being an expert teacher of ESL and a published scholar, is a singer, songwriter, and aspiring novelist. Her dissertation explores the intersections of music and memory in the contemporary Caribbean novel, and in August she will become an Assistant Professor of English at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.
Faculty, family and friends, fellow graduates: good morning.
Six years ago to the day, on a Sabbath evening in France, I received an email advising me that I’d been offered a place in the PhD cohort. Six years later, I stand before you, armed with a Ph.D. in English and poised to begin a career as an academic and writer. I can say without cliché or sarcasm that I could not have had a better graduate education anywhere else, no better preparation for my future career as a novelist and professor of English. My education at Brandeis has allowed me to teach in Palestine, present papers in the Caribbean, and research literature from around the world.
I am sure I speak on behalf of my fellow graduates when I say:
When designing courses to teach in the future, I will remember inspiring and challenging teachers, like Professors Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman, and Ulka Anjaria, who paired the reading of some of most important and undervalued books of our age with rigorous critical thinking, and who prove that being smart and being approachable are not mutually exclusive.
When tasked with advising students, I will think of Prof. Faith Smith, my advisor, who has talked me off a proverbial ledge numerous times, and Prof. Sue Lanser, who with maternal tenderness, warmth, experience and straight talking, has been my rock through the entire dissertation process. When my future students ask me, why a major in English, I will tell them: in an era of world wars, culture wars and cultural misunderstanding, literature opens a window to hearing multiple voices, engaging with and understanding a myriad of perspectives. The study of literature allows us to stand in the shoes of another, see through their points of view, and to constantly challenge and rethink our own prejudices and a prioris. And there is no better job than reading cool books for pay.
To Brandeis: thank you. To my fellow graduates: Congrats and Godspeed.