On July 2, this summer, Elie Wiesel, the world’s most prominent and eloquent witness to the Holocaust, died in New York City. He was a Nobel laureate, an accomplished author and a diligent advocate for world peace. In Night, which was published in 1956 and continues to move readers today with its frank description of human suffering and evil, Wiesel shared the unspeakable horrors and pain of his time in the concentration camps.
“Elie Wiesel was one of the great moral voices of our time, and in many ways, the conscience of the world.” President Obama noted in a White House press released published after news of his passing. “Elie was not just the world’s most prominent Holocaust survivor, he was a living memorial.”
Wiesel’s dedication to social justice and his work to affirm the dignity of all people certainly is in line with La Salle’s mission. However, the connection goes much deeper. Unbeknownst to many in the La Salle community today, in 1988 Elie Wiesel received an honorary doctorate from La Salle University.
“Wiesel, a humanities professor at Boston University, will be one of three recipients of honorary degrees at La Salle University’s graduation ceremony, scheduled for 984 graduates at 1 p.m. May 15 at the Civic Center,” reported Huntly Collins in May of 1988, then an Inquirer staff reporter and now a La Salle communication professor.
Terence Samuel reported on the actual graduation ceremony for the Inquirer. He wrote that “Wiesel, a survivor of the World War II death camp at Auschwitz, called on the President to meet with Gorbachev in Hiroshima, where nuclear war is more than just the subject of arms-control talks,
Samuel continued that the comments were pointed and timely. “Wiesel’s suggestion was directed at the President’s chief adviser on arms control, retired Army Gen. William F. Burns, who also received an honorary degree from La Salle yesterday. Burns, a 1954 graduate of La Salle, said he had “absolutely no comment” on the Wiesel suggestion for an additional summit.”
Both Collins’ and Samuel’s stories can be read in full in the Inquirer archives online at philly.com.
As an honorary doctor of La Salle University, Wiesel joined the esteemed ranks of John F. Kennedy. “Honorary degrees can be a funny business. Some schools don’t even give them,” said Dr. Kevin Harty, chair of the English department. “But say what you want, certainly Dr. Wiesel honored us in coming to La Salle.”
Certainly La Salle can honor the memory of Elie Wiesel who, by receiving an honorary degree, became part of our community. Of course, we must vow to never forget the horrific crimes of evil committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Wiesel shared his experiences, pain, sadness, and tragedy in works throughout his life to accomplish this. But, we must also dedicate ourselves to the harder and longer work of working for peace and dignity for all people in order to prevent more tragedies like the Holocaust to occur again.
“The opposite of love is not hate,” Elie Wiesel famously wrote,” It’s indifference.” To truly honor Wiesel, we, as true Lasallians, must not allow indifference to cloud our moral judgment and ethical guidelines