May 4, 2011—New College of Florida has announced that Dr. Helen N. Fagin, a prominent Holocaust educator and a key player in the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the nation’s World War II Memorial, will give the keynote address at New College’s 45th Commencement on Friday, May 20, 2011. This year, over 175 students are expected to receive Bachelor of Arts degrees from the state’s honors college for the liberal arts and sciences. The ceremony begins at 7 pm on the New College bayfront behind College Hall.
Last year’s speaker was alumnus William Dudley, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The choice of commencement speaker is made by the graduating students.
“I am very pleased that the 2011 graduates will get the chance to host such an inspiring educator,” said Dana Ziegler, vice president of public affairs for the New College Student Alliance. “There was overwhelming support for Dr. Fagin. This was not surprising, given her credentials as an inspiring Holocaust survivor, educator and stirring orator.”
In January of 2011, the National Council of Jewish Women Sarasota-Manatee Section honored Dr. Fagin at the 9th Annual Women in Power Luncheon. She helped found the local chapter of Generations After, an organization that strives to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive from generation to generation through speaking engagements in schools and other community venues. She has also served on the executive board of the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.
The Helen N. Fagin Holocaust and Genocide Collection at New College’s Jane Bancroft Cook Library, named in her honor and dedicated in January 2008, contains an extensive collection of books and materials on human injustice. The prized collection has become an asset not only for the College’s students and faculty, but for the state’s scholars and residents. The Helen N. Fagin Student Research Fund at New College, established by an anonymous donor, has been designated to facilitate research into the meaning of all forms of genocide and violations of human rights.
“I am truly humbled that the students have selected me to be their commencement speaker,” stated Fagin. “And I am most proud that New College holds the Fagin Holocaust Collection at its Cook Library. It is my hope that the collection will serve as an inspiration to future generations of New College students in preventing evils of genocide and dehumanization throughout the world.”
Helen Fagin was born in Poland. In 1939, World War II interrupted her studies at the Jagiellon University in Krakow, and she endured over five years of Nazi persecution. After arriving in the United States in 1946, she concentrated on learning English and pursuing her education, eventually earning her Ph.D. She enjoyed a distinguished career as professor of English and Director of Judaic Studies at the University of Miami.
In 1979, Dr. Fagin was invited to serve as an education advisor to Elie Wiesel and later was appointed chair of the United States Holocaust Council’s Education Committee, in charge of developing an educational track for the future Holocaust museum. In 1993, President Clinton appointed Dr. Fagin to join the World War II Memorial Committee, charged with building a national memorial in the nation’s capital. In her post-retirement years, Fagin has continued her commitment to Holocaust education by training teachers and lecturing about the historical moral lessons of the Holocaust as it applies to our own time.
Dr. Fagin has close ties with New College, where she serves on the board of the New College Library Association, has been invited by faculty to work with their students and has given book reviews.
Click here for Dr. Fagin’s survivor video testimony archived by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.