It’s that time of year again.

Graduation season is upon us – and all across the land, as a new generation stands on the cusp of transition from years of formal education to the start of their own careers, tradition has sanctified the custom of a commencement address. A captive audience, there to celebrate a major life milestone, is – depending on the speaker – either treated to an exhilarating and inspirational address which can have meaningful impact or condemned to a seeming eternity of boredom or, worst case, to outrageous and inappropriate diatribes.

So let’s see what this year so far has brought us.

Although I have no official authority and the commencement season has only just begun I’m going to take it upon myself to designate the winners for the two major categories – the Blech awards for the very best as well as for the very worst graduation addresses of 2019.

The Blech award for the most inspirational talk this year had a lot of contenders. The most recent edition of Time magazine featured some of the top moments and words of wisdom from this year’s crop of contenders. In terms of the ecstatic reception it received, among the most highly rated must be the words of billionaire investor Robert F Smith who told the graduates, “We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus” – and announced that he would personally pay off the student loans of all this year’s graduates, to the tune of $40 million dollars. But in terms of guidance and advice for the future I believe the award belongs to Oprah Winfrey for her magnificent address to the graduating class at Colorado College during their commencement ceremony on May 19.

Full disclosure: I’ve always loved Oprah from the time I had the great honor of appearing on her show, after which she shared with me her very special respect for Jews and Judaism and the great wisdom she’s found in some of its teachings. All you must do is to read a snippet of her speech to recognize how much her approach to life shares with the rabbinic teachings in the Talmudic book Ethics of the Fathers.

“I’m here to tell you that you actually do get to transform the world every day by your actions,” Winfrey told the crowd. “Small steps lead to big accomplishments. The most important thing is how you’re touching other people’s lives,” Winfrey added, going on to discuss the importance of perspective. “The truth is, you cannot fix everything. But what you can do, here and now, is make a decision, because life is about decisions. And the decision is that you will use your life in service; you will be in service to life. You will speak up. You will show up. You will stand up. You will sit in. You will volunteer. You will vote. You will shout out. You will help. You will lend a hand. You will offer your talent and your kindness however you can,” she continued, “and you will radically transform whatever moment you’re in — which leads to bigger moments.”

So powerful – and so reminiscent of the words of Rabbi Tarfon: “You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Ethics of the Fathers, 2:16); “The day is short, and the labor is plenty; the laborers are slothful, while the reward is great” (ibid, 2:15).

Oprah’s words have the power to be life-changing.

But let’s get to the Blech award for the most disgraceful commencement address. Come with me to the NYU graduation ceremony in Manhattan, where Steven William Thrasher received his doctorate in American studies from the university’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis. The Department of Social and Cultural Analysis earlier this month voted to boycott the NYU satellite campus in Tel Aviv over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and their universities. The NYU student government considered resolutions to boycott and divest from Israel and last month the Students for Justice in Palestine received a President’s Service Award. Thrasher is a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, where he holds the Daniel H. Renberg Chair, an endowed professorship focusing on social justice in reporting with an emphasis on issues relevant to the LGBTQ community.

Thrasher, as required, presented the school with the prepared text he claimed he was going to deliver. Once on stage he changed his remarks. He took the opportunity, in the presence of a crowd with widely divergent views on Israel and the political realities of the Middle East, to substitute hatred for inspiration, condemnation for life-affirming cooperation. Thrasher chose that moment to trash Israel as an apartheid state and to push his agenda of severing ties with the Tel Aviv campus. He was “so proud” of NYU’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee labor union and his colleagues in SCA for supporting BDS “against the apartheid state government in Israel.”

And so, not too long after Pittsburgh, not too long after San Diego, not too long after the now famous trio of freshmen congresswomen have made anti-Semitism camouflaged as anti-Zionism respectable, we are witness to the shocking spectacle of Jew hatred given a platform on one of the most prestigious campuses in a city known for its major Jewish population.

Perhaps most revealing of the significance of this event in terms of NYU’s history was the response of a student recently accepted for the coming year. She notified the school of her desire to withdraw her registration:

I have decided to withdraw from NYU beginning in the Fall of 2019. This decision is made with real sadness as I was very excited to apply early decision to NYU and have looked forward to attending for a many years. My family has a long connection to NYU going back to my great-grandfather X who founded the department of music and was a professor at NYU for many decades... Unfortunately, it appears the NYU my family has known is changing. It has now become clear to me that as a Jew, if I were to attend NYU I would be affiliating myself with an institution that accommodates faculty members and student organizations that are dedicated to anti-Semitic ideologies.

Some on your campus differentiate between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, however, I am not one of those people. This age-old hatred of my people wears different disguises in different generations but its root objective is always the same. I will not stand by as it is allowed to take form at NYU and will certainly not attend an institution where my core beliefs and very existence is being threatened.

I can only applaud this young woman for her insight, her wisdom and her courage. Rather than closing her eyes to this spectacle of injustice, mocking civility and promoting hatred under the very banner of advanced education, her response was profound proof of Oprah’s wisdom: “Transform the world every day by your actions.”

If only all those exposed to the mindlessness of the words in Manhattan would have been blessed with the beautiful message at Colorado College. If only the Ivy League professors were smart enough to be moved by the inspiration of Oprah instead of the vile messages of the Thrashers.