First Convocation at Claremont Lincoln

When Russell Simmons took to the stage of Garrison Theatre on Tuesday to speak at the first convocation of Claremont Lincoln University, he looked much like a college student, clad as he was in jeans, sneakers and a zip-up sweatshirt.

Appearances can be deceiving. Mr. Simmons, co-founder of the pioneering music label Def Jam Records and co-creator of fashion lines such as the wildly successful Baby Phat brand, has been cited as the third richest figure in the world of hip hop.

Mr. Simmons, however—whose famous siblings include Rev Run of Run DMC and artist Joseph Simmons—isn’t content to fill his bank account. A practicing vegan, he is widely involved in an array of philanthropic causes. He has written widely about ethical business practices, including co-authoring Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All, which espouses giving as a lifestyle choice.

Mr. Simmons said that in a world fraught with religious tension, the creation of a school aimed at nurturing future leaders skilled in inter-religious education, seems like an obvious innovation.

“The work you’re doing should so be so obvious that it’s spread around the world,” he said. “It seems like it should be the norm.”

While he claims no single religion as his own, Mr. Simmons said he has spent a lifetime studying the various religions of the world. While each has its own traditions, he feels their commonalities exceed their differences.

“They are exactly the same: the aspiration, the inspiration, the purpose and the service,” he said.

The world could use more understanding, “the kind of tolerance fostered by Claremont Lincoln University,” Mr. Simmons said.

The convocation featured presenters of many faiths, including vocalist and flutist Bassem Rashidi, who sang a song in English encouraging people to treasure and guide their children as well as a call to prayer in Arabic words, and Temple Beth Israel Cantor Paul Busch. 

Mr. Busch noted that Claremont Lincoln University—which is currently a candidate for accreditation—is very much a work in progress. Nonetheless, he is excited about the institution’s mission.

“I think it’s extremely important, and not only locally,” he said. “We live in a pluralistic society where we interact with people of other faiths. To be able to take the wealth of wisdom of all of these different traditions offers a tremendous opportunity on a global scale.”

—Sarah Torribio


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