Dr. John Kampen ’85, Vice Chair of the Alumni Leadership Council, welcomed the new graduates during HUC-JIR Cincinnati’s Commencement Ceremonies, June 2, 2018. Below please read his inspiring address and charge to the graduates.
Mazel Tov. To those who will be awarded the Master of Hebrew Letters, the Master of Arts in Jewish Studies, the Master of Philosophy, and the Doctor of Philosophy. To see this many Ph.D.’s awarded in one year is a dream that many in this school have shared from the time before I first stepped foot on this campus, and that is now a few years ago.
I recall the evening that I was awarded my degree. As I ascended the steps to the stage I thought to myself, “Now I understand the meaning of the term “earned degree.” In an age of mail-order diplomas and honorary degrees that go to the highest bidder, all of us assembled in this room know that you earned the degree you receive today.
It is my honor as a member of the Executive Team of the Alumni Leadership Council to welcome you as an alumnus/alumna of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. You have been nurtured and shaped on this campus by a remarkable body of faculty members and fellow students. You have encountered and learned many things, some shared, some particular to your own experience. All of you have developed some facility in the reading and interpretation of texts. You have been branded as someone who values texts and the text, defined in multiple and diverse ways. May you wear this brand proudly as you take the next steps in your careers.
A few weeks ago the Executive Team of the Alumni Leadership Council sent a message to President Ellenson thanking him for taking on his present role and pledging our support and cooperation during this sad and trying time in our collective experience. In that message, we quoted Rabbi Tarfon’s words from Mishnah Abot 2:15: “The day is short and the task is great and the laborers are idle and the wage is abundant and the master of the house is urgent.” Since President Ellenson is a master of texts we did not have to quote for him the next line, ׃ הוא היה אימר, לא עליכה המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין לבטל ממנה (He used to say: You are not required to complete the work, nor are you free to desist from it.” You are not required to complete the reading and study and teaching of the texts that have been entrusted into your care, nor are you free not to continue with that task. It is what you signed up for when you stepped onto this campus and what you were equipped and formed to do while you were here. It is an awesome task and responsibility.
Rabbi Tarfon continues, אם למדתה תורה הרבה, נותנים לך שׂכר הרבה (“If you have studied much Torah, much reward will be given to you”). For some of you perhaps regrettably the tangible reward will be reserved for the world to come. Some of you may have heard me tell the alumni of the Pines School in the past how important the alumni association and your participation in it is for the long-term welfare of the program that made many of us who we are today. Your role is crucial in identifying potential students for the programs and encouraging them to apply.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to mentor students enrolled here as they consider academic and other careers is also important. Of utmost significance is assistance in securing academic positions. Academic positions are highly competitive. There are too many highly qualified people in our fields. Those of you looking for positions need the assistance of the alumni network and those of you with positions can help your colleagues and assure the success of the Pines School over the long term by directing and supporting future graduates. Active networks are an essential tool in finding positions for academic careers. Pines Schools graduates are now also in positions to help academically equipped persons enter alternate fields of endeavor. The welfare of the our school depends in part upon how well we support one another.
On this point I am addressing not only the graduates of the Pines School. This mutual reliance upon one another extends to the alumni of all of the programs and campuses. For example, I think of how helpful the Jerusalem school is when I
bring seminary students on a study class to Israel. Or what I learn about Columbus where I teach when I meet with the educators, cantors, and rabbis who are graduates of HUC-JIR. We are all alumni of the same school, we had many of the
same professors, we shared many of the same experiences. When the new Reform rabbi comes to town she should receive a call of welcome from the Pines School graduate. The director of Jewish education or the Jewish agency professional should receive that same word of invitation. And the Reform rabbi would want to welcome the professor of Bible or Talmud that is new to the local campus and community. This network is important for the welfare of all alumni, it is important
for the long-term welfare of this school that for better or worse made us who we are today.
A number of years ago you took a step into a very particular educational experience that shaped and changed you in significant ways. Now you don’t leave that experience, you step off campus and continue on the same path you began while here. You do so not alone but as part of a network, a community of persons who have shared that same experience. That community, that network is as helpful and as powerful as we make it.
Best wishes on your journey.