Sol Gittleman to deliver commencement speech
Published: Thursday, March 18, 2010
Updated: Thursday, March 18, 2010 07:03
Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher university professor and former provost, will on May 23 deliver this year's commencement address, according to a press release from Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler.
Gittleman will also receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters, along with four other individuals.
University President Lawrence Bacow noted that Gittleman represents Tufts at its finest.
"I often tell freshmen that if they want to experience Tufts at its best, they should take a class [with] Sol — any class," Bacow said in an e−mail to the Daily.
University officials cited Gittleman's reputation as an excellent teacher and educator as an important reason for his selection.
"When the university looks for commencement speakers, they look for commencement speakers who are going to be able to deliver a memorable address," Thurler said. "[We look for] people who have interesting things to say and give graduates, their families and other members of the Tufts community information that is compelling, inspiring … Sol Gittleman is known for being able to do that in the classroom."
Bacow likewise highlighted Gittleman's inspired teaching. "Sol is not only a great scholar, he is the Babe Ruth of teaching, one of the very best teachers of all time," he said.
Administrators also emphasized that fact that Gittleman has been a longtime member of the Tufts community.
"[Gittleman] also knows Tufts and the student experience better than anyone I know," Bacow said.
"He's been a member of this community for many years and this has the potential to be a really terrific address," Thurler said.
Gittleman first joined the Tufts faculty 46 years ago as an associate professor of German. He served as provost from 1981 to 2002 and today continues to teach undergraduate classes like America and the National Pastime and Introduction to Yiddish Culture.
"Sol Gittleman has influenced generations of students through his teaching and mentoring," Provost and Senior Vice President Jamshed Bharucha said. "He continues to have virtually unbounded passionate energy. I will always cherish his wise counsel and friendship when I arrived at Tufts from Dartmouth to become his successor as provost."
Gittleman expressed his appreciation at being selected as the commencement speaker. "In some ways, I'm just a faculty member who just gets up and talks for the rest of the faculty, which is a great honor," he said.
The decision came as a surprise, according to Gittleman.
"I've been here a long time, I probably taught half the trustees already, I guess they were generally satisfied with their grades," he said. "I was very surprised. This is the [trustees'] choice, they wanted to do this … I've been sort of sitting waiting for them to change their minds and it hasn't happened."
Gittleman says he has been too busy grading midterms to think about what he wants to say in his speech but keeps it at the back of his mind. He believes a good commencement speech should not be long and hopes what he says will be memorable for graduates.
"I don't even remember my commencement speaker for my bachelors degree or Ph.D.," Gittleman said. "I want to say something that sticks with them … I would like them to remember so it would be great if I can think of something that will do that."
Both Bacow and Thurler expressed their confidence that Gittleman's speech will be a meaningful one for audiences. "His commencement address is sure to be very special, personal and memorable," Bacow said.
"There's a good chance that this year's seniors are going to get a real treat in terms of the speech," Thurler said.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick last year delivered the commencement address. Addressing possible concerns that students may have about the speaker not being a celebrity, Thurler stressed that what counted was the quality of the speech.
"I've been to commencements at Tufts and other institutions, and the value I find in the remarks doesn't necessarily correlate with whether the speaker is what one might consider a household name," she said. "I think we've all been to occasions when someone was expected to give a very insightful address and didn't come through. I don't think that will happen with Sol Gittleman."
Bacow two years ago made this same point in an interview with the Daily, in which he said that in an ideal world the honor of commencement speaker would be bestowed on a faculty member who could effectively provoke thought instead of an external celebrity speaker.
Gittleman is the recipient of two Fulbright awards and the Harbison Prize of the Danforth Foundation for Oustanding Teaching. He was also named Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.
He obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Drew University, a Master of Arts from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Michigan. He also holds honorary degrees from Hebrew College, Stonehill College, Drew University and the University of Tübingen.
At the commencement ceremony, four individuals will receive honorary degrees, two of whom are Tufts alumni.
Richard Dorsay (LA '60), founder of the Leonard Carmichael Society and retired professor and chief of radiology at Kaiser Hospital−South San Francisco, will receive an honorary doctorate of public service, while Gordon Wood (LA '55), a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and professor of history emeritus at Brown University, will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
Meanwhile, Kristina M. Johnson, undersecretary of energy and former provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University, will get an honorary doctorate of science.
Musician Ann Hobson Pilot, a distinguished harpist who was the first African−American principal in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the first African−American woman appointed to a principal position in a major orchestra, will receive an honorary doctorate of music.