Today I made a donation to Antioch College in the name of Ellen Berman ’47, who passed away this January.
Ellen was many things to me – a sister-in-law, a friend. But she was also a classmate, and she graduated from Antioch just two years after me in 1947. She was a special woman; I want to tell you about the strong fibers of her character that made her so remarkable.
Ellen understood the importance of living a purposeful life. Like Horace Mann, she knew that we all have an obligation to fight for social justice and respect each other as human beings. She believed in the power of education, especially for young minds. She was a wonderful grandmother, always finding the right way to keep her grandchildren engaged, and she was warm and generous with my own grandchildren as well.
Ellen was playful. She had a wicked sense of humor and didn’t like it when people took things too seriously. She would prick at convention and always knew how to have fun in the moment. She was an explorer and loved to travel the world.
Ellen never stopped growing. She was an artist, shifting her medium from pottery to macramé to polished stones to weaving to sculpture to painting to photography to jewelry. She was on a journey to express not just herself but the human spirit, both of which were ever changing. And she made sure to master the computer, even as so many her age were letting the world pass them by.
Ellen challenged authority. She did not accept things the way they were, and questioned the legitimacy and authenticity of all the institutions she encountered: Her Jewish upbringing, the picturesque but uptight neighborhood of Usonia, New York, where she lived, even Antioch itself. She became a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War.
But Ellen also knew that asking questions wasn’t enough. To change the world for the better, you have to act on your beliefs, even if it means making sacrifices. She marched in the Women’s Strike for Peace in D.C. in 1961, opposing the testing of nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War. She was a central figure on her local school board, even long after her children had graduated.
Ellen did these things because she was courageous. She overcame physical adversity, beating bouts of cancer and recovering from a broken hip. But she also overcame the challenges of being a woman of her time. One of her proudest accomplishments was the graduate degree she received from Bank Street College later in her life.
Finally, Ellen understood the importance of family. It was at Antioch where she began her lifelong relationship with Steve Berman ’47, her husband and my brother. Family was an integral part of her life. But she never neglected her broader family – the family that is all of humankind.
Antioch did not birth these qualities in Ellen. She had a wonderful mother who started her down the right path. But these values blossomed during her time in college. Ellen would not have been the woman she was and would not have lived the life she lived, if it weren’t for Antioch. I hope my donation allows future students to blossom like she did.
I will greatly miss her. She contributed much to my life and to all our lives.
Class of 1945