Monday night in the GSU’s Metcalf Ballroom, Elie Wiesel gave what may very well be his last lecture at Boston University. The ballroom was packed and the stage was set for Wisel’s appearance with a desk and a (rather useless) floorlamp.
BU, as it always does, played a fanfare for Professor Wiesel and his lecture entitled “Topics on Good and Evil.” For the most part Wiesel asked questions—he explained the best questions are the ones without an answer. Delving into analysis of “good” and “evil”, Wiesel explored both God’s and man’s relationship to good and evil, eventually culminating in this: good and evil are defined by whatever they are not; our limits upon them define their bounds and our civilization depends on us helping each other to find where those bounds are.
However, if this is Professor Wiesel’s last lecture at BU, it doesn’t seem very appropriate to honor it with a summary of his lecture (The Quad has, twice before, provided summaries of different ones). Instead, I’d like to focus on Wiesel’s achievements and influence upon Boston University.
Wiesel’s rise to worldwide fame began in 1958 with the publication of Night, his recounting of his expierences during the Holocaust (the book is more powerful than my words do justice, and if you’ve never read it, please, please do so). Wiesel has spent most of his adult life helping fight human oppression and his efforts were globally recognized in 1986 when the Norwegian Nobel Committee presented him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Since 1975, Wiesel has been giving annual lectures to the BU community on theology, morality and humanity. It will be a tremendous shame if this lecture turns out to be Professor Wiesel’s last. His insights are profound, his contributions to our campus and university are valuable, and attending his lectures is a delight. Such immediate access to someone as truly wise as Wiesel is a privilege for the BU community.
Of course, like any privilege, Wiesel’s presence on campus has the potential to be abused. When I came to campus as a freshman last year, it appeared that he was mostly a BU celebrity idolized by the administration. One of the tall, glowing, red, tourist-attracting pillars along Commonwealth Avenue brags about the presence of a Nobel Laureate on campus. The beautiful, Ledoux-inspired building across the street from Towers is named after Weisel, along with the department that inhabits it. At his talk Monday night, his face was filmed and piped into television monitors across the auditorium; perhaps there were audience members who attended for the novelty of seeing a Nobel Prize Winner Elie Weisel Lecture rather than to hear what he had to say. Unfortunately, those who would be attracted to Wiesel for his celebrity would be doing themselves a disservice. Focusing on Professor Wiesel’s celebrity rather than his teachings would be to ignore what makes him so special.