|June 05, 2004
GALESBURG — The image of the United States around the world needs to be improved according to Larry Brilliant, a physician who fought smallpox in India, treated blindness in Asia and Africa, and, in a quintessential 1960's hippie/humanitarian odyssey, drove a busload of relief supplies from Britain to Bangladesh. The founder and chair of the Seva Foundation, Brilliant gave the commencement address and received an honorary doctorate from Knox on Saturday, June 5.
Knox also awarded an honorary doctorate to historian John Dower, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book about the defeat of Japan in World War II.
Working to eradicate smallpox in India in the 1970s, Brilliant said he found people in remote Indian villages who had pictures of then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy in their homes. In his address to the Class of 2004, Brilliant lamented that opinions about the U.S. had changed.
Viewing conflict and anti-American sentiment from his perspective as an epidemiologist, Brilliant asserted that "Terrorism is like an epidemic. Hatred is a virus, love is the vaccine. A community immunized by love and tolerance can ward off occasional preachers of a message of violent hatred. ... That is why it is so important for America to stand for something worthy of love."
Brilliant is currently working on a book, "When We Were Loved," about his experiences in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and India in the 1970's.
Brilliant urged Knox graduates to "Love your country. America, with all our flaws, is still a beautiful place and a magnificent dream, [and] you have a duty to pass it on to your children more valuable than it was when it was passed to you. ... Travel ... less than one in five Americans has a passport and travels outside of the US. ... Always carry with you your personal integrity. ... Work on your sense of humor."
"We will survive," Brilliant said, closing his talk with the lyrics of "Touch of Gray," by the Grateful Dead, a band for whom he once served as the personal physician.
Knox President Roger Taylor acknowledged two groups of graduates at the ceremony — the Class of 2004 and the Class of 1954, several of whom returned to campus to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduation.
"Until now, " Taylor told the Class of 2004, "you have been students of Knox College. You now join the Class of 1954 as stewards of Knox College... Come back to campus when you can. You'll usually find someone you know. You'll always be welcome."
Also at the ceremony, Katherine Stransky of Shoreline, Washington, gave the senior class address, and Ivan Davidson, professor of theatre, received the Caterpillar Faculty Achievement Award.