Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman urged Suffolk University Law School graduates to use their legal expertise to recognize injustice and to be courageous enough to speak out against bias in a commencement speech May 17 at the Citi Performing Arts Center-Wang Theatre in Boston’s Theatre District.

Foxman asked graduates to speak out when they hear hateful language – a racist joke, religious slur or anything that demeans the differences among us, acknowledging that this “takes courage.”

“Had there been people of courage to act in 1915 when the Armenian genocide was taking place, had there been international intervention when massacres in Cambodia, Bosnia, and the genocide in Rwanda were happening, innocent lives in great numbers could have been saved.," said Foxman.

It was not bricks that started the Holocaust, but hateful words that demonized the Jews, said Foxman. “We have to find ways to live together, to grow together …to choose our words carefully.”

The courage of a family employee, “a woman who risked her life every day for four years to save the life of another human being,” allowed Foxman to survive the Holocaust in Poland. But he said he was left with many questions: about why so many perished; why the world did nothing; and why he survived.

“As I grew older, I realized there were no answers, only questions and more questions,” said Foxman.

He decided to combine his professional legal training with his moral viewpoint to fight injustice and hate through the Anti-Defamation League and asked the graduates to similarly find a way to “heal and repair a little bit this world that needs repair.”

“There is a need for reasoned and strong leadership, and your generation has a challenge and an opportunity to bring us back to a balanced and civil society.” said Foxman, who was met with a prolonged standing ovation as his speech ended.

Foxman is a worldwide leader in the fight against bigotry who joined the ADL in 1965 and has devoted his life to fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry and discrimination throughout the world. The Law School presented Foxman with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Hooding of Sen. Edward MarkeyU.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) also gave remarks. He urged graduates to use their law degrees to fight for human rights, to relieve poverty, to ensure the checks and balances that make for a fair government and the value of net neutrality, something he has championed during his career in Washington D.C.

“Congratulations for everything that you are going to do for our world,” said Markey, who received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.

Honorary degrees

The following also were awarded honorary Doctor of Laws degrees during Suffolk University Law School exercises:

  • William C. Hubbard, president-elect of the American Bar Association
  • The Hon. Carl E. Stewart, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
  • Cedric Cromwell, tribal council chairman for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts

Law School Statistics

  • Juris doctor degrees awarded: 455
  • Master of laws degrees awarded: 12