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Distributed May 31, 2004
Contact Mark Nickel

The 236th Commencement
President Simmons: “A woman of uncommon integrity is in our midst”

Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, an outspoken advocate for human rights and the rights of women in Iran, delivered the baccalaureate address Sunday afternoon, May 30, 2004, in the First Baptist Meeting house. Ebadi spoke in Farsi with simultaneous translation into English and a video simulcast to The College Green. A mistranslation of spontaneous remarks early in Ebadi’s address disturbed some listeners. President Ruth Simmons set the record straight during the College Commencement Ceremony Monday, May 31. The President’s remarks follow here.
(See also news release 03-128.)

There are few times in these proceedings that we break protocol, but this morning I feel it is imperative that we do so. Before going on with the exercises, I want to take a moment to correct an error that occurred yesterday during the translation of Ms. Shirin Ebadi's baccalaureate address from Farsi to English. Ms. Ebadi was deeply moved by the Baccalaureate Ceremony and the diversity of faiths and traditions represented in the readings and music here in this beautiful Meeting House. In that spirit, she departed from her prepared text and, near the beginning of her remarks, her interpreter misspoke in English what she had said in Farsi.

Ms. Ebadi spoke passionately in her address – and last evening at another occasion – of the value of diverse faiths and of tolerance in the search for peace and the worldwide struggle for human rights. I want to share with you what she actually said, because it is a message that is so appropriate in these times and at this time of your Commencement.

I am very happy to see different religions side-by-side in this church. I am very happy to see the arts of different civilizations side-by-side in this church. I am honored that I am among teachers who have taught their students to tolerate the views of others. And I congratulate the University graduates on the occasion of the completion of their studies and that they have graduated from a University such as this.

But, my sons and daughters, my dear students, not everyone has your good fortune. There are still some people in the world who, for the sake of the narrow interpretation of a single word from the Qur’an are ready to wage war.

There are still some people who for the sake of one line from the Christian Bible and its narrow interpretation are ready to cause people to suffer.

There are still some Jewish people who, because they only accept their own religion, cannot accept others.

Therefore, I congratulate you because you have learned tolerance for each other. And the essential question is this: If different religions and different cultures are to live side-by-side, what laws must be established so that all will be satisfied with them, and obey them?

The answer we arrive at is: universal human rights; because universal human rights constitute the very essence of all different cultures and all different religions. Therefore cultural relativism cannot be an excuse for the negation of universal human rights. “

I thank you, Ms. Ebadi, and I thank our own Professor William Beeman for translating your words so that the entire Brown community may know that a woman of uncommon valor and integrity is in our midst.


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