People have asked me for the transcript of my graduation speech. Below the video below, you will now see the transcript as well. The speech is only a little over three minutes long.
Thanks for all your support and for letting me share with you some of what hundreds of hours with Holocaust survivors during the past five years has taught me.
Before coming to George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), I lived in France worked in advertising and pursued a master’s degree in International Affairs at the American University of Paris. I wrote my thesis on the French National Railway’s role in the WWII transport of deportees to death camps and the contemporary conflict in the United States over whether the company had done enough to make amends.
After graduation, I wanted more and only S-CAR specialized in both post-conflict studies and what the field calls narrative. Narrative approaches to conflict consider how the stories we tell about conflicts impacts how our conflicts unfold.
So, I boxed up my apartment in Paris and moved to Arlington.
The problem was, I had not been admitted to the doctoral program.
I had not even applied.
Thank goodness the school eventually admitted me. I had no plan B.
SCAR over-delivered, teaching me new ways to think about conflict and introducing me to astonishing group of colleagues and faculty. I wrote a dissertation about those French trains and now the dissertation is becoming a widely accessible book.
It was the 80 Holocaust survivors interviewed for my dissertation who taught me how to live. I want to share two of these lessons today.
What the survivors taught me is that no small act is too little and that no action of compassion is ever too late.
Two brief stories demonstrate this.
Rosette Goldstein, who I saw again last month in Florida, recalls the first day she had to wear the yellow star to school.
A star that marked her Judaism and served as the beginning of the physical separation of the Jews from the Non-Jews throughout Europe.
Just 8 years old, Rosette recalls the ridicule from her classmates.
She also recalls the words of her teacher, who risked her job when she stood up before the whole class and said,
“Stop this! These children are our friends. Our country has gone mad, but we will not.”
Her words have never left Rosette.
It is never too little.
It was Daniel – who I just saw in Paris two weeks ago, with whom I learned the second lesson:
it is never too late.
During my many meetings with Daniel, I learned that he felt largely estranged from the brother with whom he survived first Auschwitz and then a series of death marches to Austria.
Just 12 and 14 at the time, the boys had been rounded up together, deported together and imprisoned together.
They have consecutive tattoos on their forarms.
Through a series of events – which I am now writing about in my book – they found themselves separated after the war—only coming together briefly, but never living together again.
Now 85 and 87, the brothers rarely saw each other.
“My brother didn’t come when I had my heart surgery” Daniel laments.
“I was a burden to him during the war,” Daniel says. ‘I think that’s why he doesn’t want to see me,”
Samuel explains the reason for their estrangement differently.
Once Daniel converted to Catholicism and had six children, Samuel says, “I pulled back to give him space.”
Hearing these explanations separately – I helped them start a new dialogue with one another.
The war took their parents but it does not need to rob them of each other.
We have been at this for over two years now.
On April 30 of this year, we all met in Strasbourg on the French-German border.
And They began a new chapter of their relationship.
“Your story’s not over,” I told Daniel after his reunion with Samuel.
“You’re right,” he said “The story is not over.”
Two days later Daniel called me to say we performed a “petit miracle” – a small miracle.
His brother was transformed and so was his wife.
Now they just miss their sister who refused to come to the reunion or speak about the war.
So, I sent her the pictures just to say we were thinking of her.
This week she responded, inviting me to her house. She is ready to speak. I will now work on uniting the three of them.
When watching the news, we can feel like we’re trying to stare down a Tsunami. The conflict and pain seems endless.
We likely will not stop much of it.
But what we do choose to do – no matter how small or how late matters…
We can always enrich the lives of those around us