Graduate Speaker, Brandeis University Commencement: Allysha Roth, MPP'15

Allysha Roth, MPP'15, Brandeis University Graduate Commencement Speaker

Thank you to everyone who has made this day happen. Thank you, faculty, administration and staff for all of the hard work that you do to give us an excellent education. Thank you, family and friends who are here to support and celebrate us. And graduates, let us take a moment to thank ourselves for our perseverance through the moments of struggle that brought us here to our graduation from Brandeis University.

In my brief two years here, I’ve gathered that Brandeis students have three things in common: they seek the truth; they want to share their knowledge; and they dream of leadership.

My whole life has been shaped by moments of truth. When I applied to the Master of Public Policy program, the truth confounded me. I spent months toiling over how to prove that the organization I worked for was effective in its field, only to conclude that it wasn’t. There I was, dedicating a year of my life to a program President Lyndon B. Johnson started 50 years ago to alleviate poverty in the United States, realizing I was completely ineffectual. In that moment of truth, when I sat there crying in absolute despair after reading about the economic conditions facing working Americans in Alabama, I felt completely useless. I knew with my whole heart that no amount of funding I could secure for this one nonprofit could substantially change that reality. But, I still had hope because I believed, and still do, that knowledge can change the world. And that’s why I came to study poverty alleviation at Brandeis. I came to seek the truth, to find out how I can make a difference.

I showed up at Brandeis thinking that I would go to class, learn, then turn around, tell everyone what I know and the world would somehow change. I was a little naïve.

I went to class, learned that almost everything I thought was good policy has a little problem called “political feasibility” and determined that changing politics could change everything. I have completed my master’s program and it is clear that I have much more to learn before I can accomplish that.  But, as the flags all over the Heller School say, “Enough is known for action.” And, this is what I know.

Knowledge may be power, but you can’t spend your whole life waiting to take action until you know everything because that’s never going to happen. When you seek the truth, you reveal your own ignorance. And even if you had all the knowledge in the world to share, you can’t trust the world to act on knowledge alone. It’s not sharing knowledge that changes the world, it’s the way you share it. It’s the way you infuse your unique perspective, your values, your story into your knowledge that has power. What you learned here at Brandeis may have humbled you - I certainly have been humbled - but you have to trust that if you stand by your values and you tell your story, you will make good decisions. You have to trust that you know enough to take action.

I dream of leadership, as I’m sure most of you do. In fact, I am certain that all of you do. Leadership is not just being the face of an organization or the top in your field. Leadership is wanting to be part of something bigger than yourself, contributing, telling your story and taking action. Today, you donned a cap and gown and braced yourself for congratulations. Today is likely one of your proudest moments; if not, it is definitely one of the proudest moments for the people who love you. You came here and learned your truth, you’re probably a professional at sharing your knowledge in 140 characters or less, and you are ready to be a part of something bigger than yourself. And if you’re not quite there, I understand if you’re nervous, it’s at least what your LinkedIn profile should say.

Our futures are not yet decided, but we leave Brandeis University having built a foundation for leadership. We took action here at Brandeis, in the communities we touched while we were here, and we will continue to lead by example in our fields. Whether you accept a job, sign on for more schooling, serve your country, volunteer in a distant one, or dare I say someday run for elected office, you will achieve your dream of leadership. And, you will always aspire for more. So take this moment to reflect on all you’ve accomplished, thus far. Congratulate yourself for what you have already achieved. And aspire for more. Congratulations, Brandeis University class of 2015.