Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, author, professor and Holocaust survivor, delivered the keynote address for the President’s Convocation on Sept. 26 at the Nerney Field House of the Dixon Center. Wiesel stressed the need for human action to prevent other events like the Holocaust.
Wiesel said, “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.” His message was one of hope and encouragement for action. The campus buzzed with thousands of people who eagerly awaited the arrival of Wiesel.
Wiesel’s visit to Cabrini was not limited to just the delivery of the keynote address, but began much earlier when students in two group discussions met with him. The first discussion group was made up of approximately 15 freshmen, who were required to read Wiesel’s famous memoir, “Night,” for their college success seminar. The students were hand picked by faculty based upon their essays about “Night.”
Wiesel said, “I had to write ‘Night.’ If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have justified my life.”
In the second group, approximately 30 upper class students were in attendance to welcome Wiesel. The students were chosen by the head of each department. The discussions raised issues about freedom, genetic engineering, the American government, cloning and advice from Wiesel for the students of this generation.
“”It is possible to prevail. It is possible to win,” Wiesel said.
Shortly after the second discussion concluded, students, family, faculty, alumni and members of the Cabrini community waited in anticipation, as Wiesel was escorted to the Dixon Center for the keynote address at the President’s Convocation. As soon the doors of the Dixon Center opened, seats immediately filled for Wiesel’s speech.
As the lights dimmed, the President’s Convocation began with a processional featuring music by the Valley Forge Military Academy and College. The trumpets sounded signaling the entrance of Dr. Jonnie Guerra, vice president for academic affairs; Father Michael Bielecki, the campus chaplain; Dr. Charlie McCormick, dean for academic affairs; Margaret Hamilton Dupree, chair of the Board of Trustees; Dr. Seth Frechie, associate professor of English and communication; Rabbi Ira Grussgott, cantor; Rabbi Robert Tabak, adjunct professor of religious studies; President Dr. Antoinette Iadarola and Wiesel.
After an introduction by Guerra, Lisa Franks, lecturer in romance languages, sang the national anthem. Father Bielecki led everyone in prayer before President Iadarola’s welcomed the community.
Iadarola spoke of Wiesel’s book, “Night.” President Iadarola immediately reflected on Wiesel’s accomplishments that help to define him as an individual.
President Iadarola said, “Wiesel exhibits the many characteristics we want here at Cabrini. ”
Iadarola placed emphasis on the connection between Cabrini’s motto, “Placing service beyond one’s self,” and the life and work of Wiesel. Iadarola pinpointed that she wanted Wiesel, among other topics, to speak about hope, because as she said, “Wiesel is a messenger of hope.”
McCormick then presented Gina Mulranen, a freshman math major, with Cabrini’s first-year-student essay award, based on her essay about “Night.” Mulranen received a plaque for her accomplishments.
After the President’s Convocation, Mulranen said, “I can’t begin to tell you what an experience this has been for me.”
Mulranen added that before the President’s Convocation, Wiesel had asked for her paper that she had written and for her to autograph it. This act displayed by Wiesel made Mulranen’s accomplishment even more memorable; she said, “It’s been an absolute honor to be recognized by a person like Wiesel.”
Frechie escorted Wiesel to the lectern where President Iadarola presented Wiesel with the Honorary Degree of Humane Letters.
Although soft spoken, Wiesel quickly grabbed the audience’s attention through his use of words. Opening his address Wiesel showed gratitude towards students and professors for their time spent with him throughout the day.
Wiesel went on to quickly say that “Night” was by no means a novella, as stated by President Iadarola, but rather a memoir. Wiesel defines a novella as being fiction.
Wiesel said, “Every bit of ‘Night’ is true. All the silence that every page contains is true.”
Wiesel spoke on subjects of hope, despair, humanity, politics and religion, which led up to his reflection on his life, which impacts the work that he has done and remains to do today. However, Wiesel’s main focus was on the issues of hope and despair.
Wiesel questioned if it was human to be inhuman, which led him to also question the possibility for people to exceed evilness to find a greater evil. A portion of Wiesel’s speech was also dedicated to a letter that he wrote to God.
Wiesel’s letter to God began by saying, “Master of the Universe, how long can we go on being angry at each other? Fifty years have passed since the nightmare.”
Continuing his letter, Wiesel asked God where he was when he was in Auschwitz. Wiesel prayed through his duration in the concentration camp but did not know why he continued to call on God.
Closing his letter to God, he said, “Let’s make up Master of the Universe.”
As Wiesel’s speech concluded, he again brought up the topic of hope and despair. For Wiesel, only human beings can push him to despair and only human beings can take away that despair.
Cantor Grussgott took the platform to give a prayer in honor of all those lost in the Holocaust. The prayer closed leaving Rabbi Tabak to give the benediction, closing the President’s Convocation.
The audience still sat enthralled, as Wiesel’s words rang in their ears, “Create hope out of despair.”