Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel, the prolific author described as a “messenger to mankind” by the Nobel Peace Prize committee, will deliver the address at Lehigh’s 142nd commencement ceremony on Monday, May 24.
Although he has written 57 books—many of them award-winning and critically acclaimed—Wiesel is perhaps best known for Night, which is based on his experiences in the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and for his humanitarian work around the world in defense of peace and human rights. Currently, Wiesel is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University.
“Dr. Wiesel’s contributions to the world of literature, his global efforts to deliver a message of peace and hope, and his extraordinary personal story make him an extremely compelling speaker,” says Lehigh President Alice P. Gast. “His message will no doubt inspire graduates, parents, families and friends.”
Adds Rabbi Seth Goren, associate university chaplain and director of Jewish student life at Lehigh: “Wiesel’s poetic, literary and theological contributions place him in a category all his own.
“His novel Night has become a staple of Holocaust literature, and his articulation of these harrowing experiences has transcended nationality, ethnicity and religion to become woven into the fabric of the American literary experience in a deeply profound and enduring way. His address will provide an extraordinary educational moment for our young graduates, just as his work has provided that opportunity for millions of people around the world.”
Wiesel was selected by Gast after the president reviewed the recommendations of the Commencement Speaker Nominations Committee, which had been drawn from a list of nominations gathered from the campus community.
Jack Meehan, president of the Class of 2010 and a member of the nomination committee, says: “It is an honor to have a speaker of Dr. Wiesel’s distinction and personal experience deliver our commencement address. His speech will be a fantastic way to conclude our experience here at Lehigh.”
Wiesel has worked on behalf of oppressed people for much of his adult life. His personal experience of the Holocaust has led him to use his talents as an author, teacher and storyteller to defend human rights and peace throughout the world.
Those efforts have earned him the United States Congressional Gold Medal (1985) and the Medal of Liberty Award (1986); the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1992); the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor (2001); an honorary Knighthood of the British Empire awarded by Her Majesty, the Queen (2006); and, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. He has received more than 120 honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning in the United States, Europe and Israel.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed him chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust. In 1980, he became founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
His more than 50 books have won numerous awards, including the Prix Médicis for A Beggar in Jerusalem, the Prix du Livre Inter for The Testament and the Grand Prize for Literature from the City of Paris for The Fifth Son. The first volume of Wiesel’s memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea, was published in New York (Knopf) in 1995. The second volume, And the Sea is Never Full, was published in 1999. His latest novel, Un désir fou de danser (A Mad Desire to Dance), published in France in 2006, is soon to be published in English by Knopf.
The Commencement Speaker Committee will plan academic activities to be held in the spring to showcase Wiesel’s work, using Lehigh’s own faculty experts and leaders in fields related to those of Wiesel.
Story by Linda Harbrecht
Posted on Monday, January 25, 2010