Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt was honored with the university’s prestigious 2020 Exemplary Teacher Award at this year’s commencement exercises May 11. It was one of the highlights of the ceremony that, for the first time in 175 years, was held online.
Lipstadt, who is Emory’s Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, has achieved international renown during her 46-year teaching career. She was chosen, in Emory’s words, for “her dedication to transformational teaching, her demonstrated compassion for students and colleagues alike, and the vast scope of her contributions as a public scholar.” In accepting the award, Lipstadt acknowledged the importance that teaching has played in her life.
“The students – that’s what it is all about. It’s such an amazing job in that you get to help young people shape their lives, to challenge them, expose them to new ideas and learn from them in return.”
The professor has spent the last year on a break from Emory, as the Ina Levine Invitational Scholar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. She has been creating an online teaching project to accompany her best-selling book, “Anti-Semitism: Here and Now,” published last year.
Michael A. Elliott, dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences, who nominated Lipstadt for the honor, paid her a glowing tribute.
“Her rigorous and unflinching approach to research permeates her pedagogy, just as her passionate humanity underpins her meticulous scholarship.”
This is the second successive year that Lipstadt has been honored for her work with students. In 2019, she received the university’s highest award for student mentoring.
Eric Goldstein, director of Emory’s Tam Institute of Jewish Studies, nominated her for that honor. He said at the time that, “She has challenged students to think about the meaning of the Holocaust as an historical event and has also guided them in thinking about how it has been represented in film and in works of art and literature.”
Students at the commencement also heard Alabama human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who delivered the keynote commencement address. He spoke out against the alleged murder of Ahmaud Arbery Feb. 23 in Brunswick, Ga.
The 25-year-old Arbery was an African American man who was allegedly killed after a confrontation with two white men while jogging through a Brunswick neighborhood. Stevenson described the crime as one more killing in America’s long narrative of racial violence.
“He was hunted, and I believe wrongfully killed, because of this narrative that made us believe that we can act in this way. We have got to challenge that narrative.” Three men have since been charged with murder for the killing.
Stevenson has achieved national recognition for his work in freeing prisoners on death row who have been wrongly convicted. His book, “Just Mercy,” based on his work, was made into a well-received motion picture last year starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.
He was also the subject of the HBO documentary “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality” in 2019, which was nominated for a highly respected Peabody Award. The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation in Atlanta has funded a teaching guide based on the documentary and has sponsored free screenings of the production.
In responding to Stevenson’s Emory address, university President Claire Sterk said, “it was especially fitting that Bryan Stevenson graced us today with a commencement address that emphasized the need for us as a society to affirm the humanity and dignity of every individual,” she said.
“The recent tragedy that resulted in Mr. Arbery’s death is a reminder that we, as a society, must stand for justice. It is an inspiring message for our graduates, our entire community, to hear and act upon.”
Sterk is leaving the Emory presidency and returning to teaching. Succeeding her is Gregory Fenves, currently president of The University of Texas at Austin. Fenves, whose father was a Holocaust survivor, will be the first Jewish president in the history of Emory, which was founded in 1836 by the United Methodist Church.
- Emory University
- Deborah Lipstadt
- U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Anti-Semitism: Here and Now
- Michael A. Elliott
- Eric Goldstein
- Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University
- Bryan Stevenson
- Ahmaud Arbery
- Just Mercy
- The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
- President Claire Sterk
- Gregory Fenves
- True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality