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"A goal is like the sun, the spotlight that illuminates the path, enabling growth, change and insight. It can propel you to move ahead. That's why it's worth setting your goals as high as possible, and perhaps even higher than seems possible – because a goal is something to aspire to, not necessarily something to reach. The very act of marching toward a goal can sometimes reveal wonderful things, even the best." These inspiring words concluded the address delivered by Paralympic athlete Keren Leibovitch at the Feinberg Graduate School's 2022 commencement.
Leibovitch, who was a guest of honor at the ceremony, shared her compelling life story with the graduates – from the injury she had sustained during her service in the Israel Defense Forces, to winning Paralympic gold and breaking world records, to helping other people in their rehabilitation. She had injured her back while carrying an inappropriately heavy load during an officers' course and underwent two spinal cord surgeries, which left her walking with crutches and using a wheelchair for longer distances. After undergoing rehabilitation, she took part in three Paralympics, winning seven medals, including four gold ones.
More than a decade ago, after undergoing surgery on her shoulder in the wake of complications from her injury, she was left paralyzed in one arm, which prevented her from walking with crutches, forcing her to move around only in a wheelchair. But after a year of intensive training, she managed to realize a new dream: to walk again. Today she walks with crutches and facilitates the rehabilitation of others using a training method she developed.
"Using this method, I take people with disabilities through a rehabilitation process that is not only physical but usually also emotional or even spiritual, helping them to return to walking or at least significantly improve their quality of life. Such improvements propagate like ripples, benefiting all those in the trainee's immediate circle and further out," Leibovitch said.
""A goal is something to aspire to, not necessarily something to reach. The very act of marching toward a goal can sometimes reveal wonderful things, even the best"
She then drew a surprising parallel between scientific research and rehabilitation from an injury: "Observing the rehabilitation process of trainees provides me with a better understanding of the connection between the body, mind and soul in the complex make-up of a human being. Regaining control over the body and mind seems to me akin to developing a new idea. A spark of a mental picture showing a desired physical state may point the way toward a goal that is then reached by tiny Sisyphean steps, on the way to greater strength and awareness… My trainees may set themselves the goal of walking again, whereas in your case, the goal may be a certain kind of research."
Weizmann Institute of Science President Prof. Alon Chen also referred in his address to the challenging path that had led the graduates to a successful completion of their studies, particularly the difficulties inherent in trying to solve the mysteries of nature. "Your success is our success," he said. "You will go out into the world and make a difference, and in this way, the Weizmann Institute has an enormous, worldwide impact on science. Some of you are headed to careers in academia, others to industry, others to education and beyond. No matter which path you choose, you will bring with you not only your scientific knowledge but the spirit of science – the curiosity, the aspiration to search for truth, to reveal new knowledge to the world."
Prof. Gilad Perez, dean of the Feinberg Graduate School, emphasized in his address the importance of academic freedom in science in general, and at the Weizmann Institute in particular. Prof. Daniella Goldfarb, Chair of the Scientific Council, talked in her speech about the upheavals the world had undergone in the past two years, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Europe, stressing that science has no borders and can serve as a powerful uniting force.
The ceremony was conducted by Shibel Karmi Mansour; the entertainment was entrusted to singer and actress Ania Bukstein and guitar player Gal Shnaider.
A total of 127 alumnae and 176 alumni received their degrees – 124 PhDs and 179 MSc degrees – from the Feinberg Graduate School this year. Among this year’s cloak wearers and mortarboard throwers were 47 international research students – about 16 percent of all graduates. Thirty-three excellence awards were presented at the ceremony – 11 to MSc and 12 to PhD recipients, as well as 12 additional prizes for outstanding student achievements.
This year’s traditional graduates’ address was given by Dr. Roei Mazor, who has completed his PhD under the joint supervision of Prof. Ziv Shulman of the Systems Immunology Department and Prof. Irit Sagi of the Immunology and Regenerative Biology Department. Mazor, married and father of three, is a medical doctor who conducted his PhD research on cancer-fighting antibodies. He moved the audience by sharing that, in fact, he had begun his own search for scientific truths some two decades earlier, while accompanying his late mother throughout her oncological treatments. He stressed the need to instill a curiosity and love of science in children, so that they, "architects of the future, will themselves set out on a journey in search of truth, on their way to new summits."