Over the past few weeks, multiple thousands of college graduates, families and friends have been regaled by a cadre of “respected commencement speakers,” from President Obama to local luminaries with ties to the schools’ luminaries. They are often pedantic, generally focused on the “I” word and unfortunately long-winded and even boring. General Dwight Eisenhower spoke at my university commencement, and two members from my guest list were noted to be gently snoozing away.
But now I must tell you, on Sunday, May 19, at my grandson Jesse’s graduation from Brandeis University, the speaker was Dr. Rick Hodes, a 60-year-old American doctor who is headquartered in Ethiopia where he is, among dozens and dozens of additional duties, the senior consultant to a Catholic mission and medical director of the renowned American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. In this later task he has tendered to, and guided, some 70,000 immigrants from the African nation to Israel. In Zaire, Hodes directed healthcare for 50,000 people in the Kibumba refugee camp.
Remarkably this secular American Jew, who decided orthodoxy was the way to live his life, has attained a Fulbright fellowship, was a finalist for CNN Heroes, the program that recognizes ordinary people for their extraordinary achievements, plus the American College of Physicians has awarded him mastership and the prestigious Rosenthal award for the creative practice of medicine.
Hodes’ never-ending hard work concentrates on spine conditions, heart problems and cancer. His contacts within the medical establishment for operating surgeries run from America, through Europe, to India. And when Hodes encountered serious insurance company resistance to pay for operations, this incredible human being simply adopted five suffering youngsters, put them on his personal insurance and went on with his work.
As might be imagined, Dr. Hodes offered commencement words that were not pedantic, not focused on the big “I” or long-winded or boring. He did recall the words of hockey’s legendary Wayne Gretzky to fire up the graduates: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take… so in life’s adventure, take your shots!”