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Testimonials

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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Saturday, August 19, 2017

University accommodates the needs of 22 students who had declined to take part in Saturday ceremonies

For the first time ever, the University of Maryland, College Park, hosted an alternative graduation ceremony on May 21 to accommodate 22 observant Jewish students who were unable to attend the regular graduation because it took place on Shabbat.

Although the main campus-wide ceremony was held on Sunday, 19 of the university’s 34 individual schools held their commencement ceremonies the day before—on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. When the graduation schedule was announced back in March, Shabbat-observant Jewish students expressed significant disappointment at feeling their considerations were not taken into account.

To alleviate the situation, Rabbi Eli Backman, co-director of the Bais Menachem Chabad Student Jewish Center, and Rabbi Ari Israel, director of the campus Hillel, requested that the administration hold an alternative ceremony on Sunday. The college immediately responded to accommodate the students.

And so, at 5 p.m. on Sunday, the 22 graduates marched into the atrium in the Stamp Student Union building as their families cheered them on.

Israel delivered the opening remarks, urging the graduating class to give back, now and in the future. “We don’t live in a vacuum; rather, we are part of society,” he said. “People are invested in us and gave us the tools we have. Now, each of you must seek out others to invest in.”

Paul Hamburger, a senior partner in the international law firm Proskauer Rose LLP and a member of the Chabad on Campus international advisory board, delivered the commencement speech. He relayed an account he heard firsthand from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg about how, together with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, she had lobbied then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist to postpone the 2003 opening court session so as not to conflict that year with Yom Kippur.

Hamburger concluded his remarks by saying: “This graduation ceremony is separate from and still a part of the University of Maryland graduation exercises. It is a testament to how you can find a balance between your Jewish identity and your integration into the world at large.”

Each student was called up by name and received their diploma from William Cohen, the associate provost and dean for undergraduate studies, who represented the university.

Backman closed the ceremony by asking the students to draw a lesson from the specially arranged event. “As you progress in life, remember how you clung steadfast to your Jewish principles, and you were able to graduate without compromising your beliefs. There will be moments ahead which challenge you, but remember that you can remain true to both your profession and your faith.”

For electrical-engineering major Rebecca Grossman, the ceremony was not just about recognizing the graduates’ academic achievements, but about their values and priorities. She gave special thanks to the university for showing its “unwavering support and commitment to the success of the Jewish students on campus.”

Grossman, who helped organize the celebration, noted its inclusive nature and lasting impact. “These are students I have been very close friends with for the last four years,” she said. “I have taken classes with many of them. But more importantly, I have lived, eaten, learned and observed Shabbat and holidays with them. The bond of the Jewish community at Maryland is incredibly strong, and it was so special to stand next to these peers as college graduates.”

By: Chabad Staff
(Chabad.org)