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Canadian Supreme Court justice to address 66th Commencement

From left: Rosalie Silberman Abella; Leslie Lamport, MA’63, PhD’72; Lisa Lynch, P'17; Deval Patrick; Barry Shrage

Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, a renowned expert on human-rights law, will deliver the commencement address at Brandeis University’s 66th Commencement on May 21. She will be among five distinguished individuals to receive honorary degrees from Brandeis at the Commencement ceremony.

Abella was born in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany, to parents who had spent three years in Nazi concentration camps and whose 2-year-old son perished in Treblinka. In 1950, the Silberman family immigrated to Canada. By age 4, Abella had decided to become a lawyer, inspired by her father who had been a brilliant law student in Poland before the war.  But when he learned he would have to become a Canadian citizen, which would take five years, in order to practice law, he went into insurance instead to support his young family.

After earning an LLB from the University of Toronto, Abella was called to the Ontario Bar in 1972. She practiced civil and criminal litigation before becoming a jurist on the Ontario Family Court in 1976 at age 29, the youngest — and first pregnant — person ever appointed to Canada’s judiciary. Sixteen years later, she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. In 2004, in a remarkable coda to her father’s legacy she became the first Jewish woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“Justice Abella’s personal story and legal career are an inspiring example to our graduates of what we can accomplish when one uses one’s education to the betterment of the world,” said Brandeis University President Ron Liebowitz. “She is a judge with whom our namesake Justice Louis D. Brandeis would have found much in common: a commitment to the protection of those who are not at the center of power in society.”

Abella is considered a foremost expert on human-rights law. She was the sole Commissioner of the 1984 federal Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, which created the concept of “employment equity” in an effort to end workplace discrimination against women, indigenous peoples, nonwhite minorities and persons with disabilities. The report was implemented in Canada and several other countries. She has written more than 90 articles, and has written or co-edited four books. She was made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.

Brandeis will confer honorary degrees on Abella; computer scientist Leslie Lamport, MA’63, PhD’72; Provost Lisa M. Lynch, P’17; former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick; and Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

“The remarkable honorary degree recipients we will honor at Commencement embody the values that guide Brandeis’ mission: They have demonstrated a commitment to intellectual rigor, have thought critically about the issues they have advanced, and have dedicated their talents and lives to repairing and improving the world,” Liebowitz said.

  • Computer scientist Leslie Lamport, MA’63, PhD’72 — celebrated as “the father of principled distributed computing” — is a central figure in the development of protocols that allow computer systems to cooperate, avoid errors and resolve confusion. For his innovations, Lamport, who earned his master’s degree and PhD in mathematics at Brandeis, won the 2013 A.M. Turing Award, known as the Nobel Prize of computing.  His “Time, Clocks and the Ordering of Events in a Distributed System” (1978) is one of the most-cited research papers ever published in the field of computer science.
  • Lisa M. Lynch, P’17, who served as interim president at Brandeis from July 2015 through June 2016, is the university’s provost and chief academic officer, and the Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy. Previously, she was dean of Brandeis’ Heller School for Social Policy and Management. An internationally recognized labor economist, she served as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and chair of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  • Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was the first African-American to be elected to that post, serving two terms from 2007 to 2015. Raised by a single mother in Chicago’s South Side, Patrick won a scholarship to Milton Academy at 14 and subsequently graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He is chair of the advisory board of Our Generation Speaks, an innovative fellowship program that, in partnership with Brandeis and MassChallenge, helps young Israeli and Palestinian leaders start sustainable ventures that can create jobs, build bridges and nurture hope in their communities.
  • Barry Shrage has served as president of CJP (Combined Jewish Philanthropies) — Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation — since 1987. Under his leadership, CJP focuses on developing Jewish education and engaging future generations, building connections to Israel, and caring for the area’s most vulnerable. During his tenure, CJP has invested $1.1 billion into strengthening the Jewish community in Greater Boston and beyond. During the recession that began in 2008, Shrage helped develop CJP’s Economic Response, which provided funding to meet the needs of the Boston area’s most vulnerable.

Commencement exercises will take place Sunday, May 21, at 10:30 a.m. in Gosman Sports and Convocation Center.

Date: April 4, 2017