By Chana Ingber
College graduation is a day that many students anticipate long before the day arrives. The thought of getting dressed up with friends and celebrating achievements together is exciting to many, even if it means sitting through more than a few speeches. Yeshiva University’s 89th annual Commencement ceremony, however, was different from most graduations due to the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the undergraduate campuses to close in March 2020 and continue to be closed for the remainder of the spring semester.
Many schools have opted for a “Zoom” graduation where the graduating class would gather together via the newly-popular video platform. Other schools have pushed off their ceremonies until later in the summer or even the fall, hoping to celebrate in-person. Yeshiva University analyzed the pros and cons of these options and opted to recognize its graduating class with a pre-recorded, hour long video.
The video went live at 1 p.m. EST on June 14, using a link and PIN that had been sent to YU seniors to share. Viewers were greeted by student council presidents teaching them how to use the comment and reaction sections of the platform in addition to reminding everyone to tag their posts with #YUGrad20. Lin Manuel Miranda, composer of Broadway shows such as “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” then “zoom bombed” to congratulate the class of 2020.
Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president of academic affairs, welcomed everyone to the video. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks delivered words of wisdom and religious guidance to the viewers before the YU Maccabeats sang the National Anthem and Hatikvah (Israeli national anthem). Viewers then heard congratulations from Moshael Strauss, chairman of the Yeshiva University board of trustees. Strauss reminded viewers that in this time of celebration we must also honor those we have lost. Names and faces of those who had recently passed, including YU faculty and staff, flooded the screen.
Pre-recorded videos of students applauding preceded President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman who told the class of 2020 that through great darkness, they have brought light. He spoke of what they should carry with them past graduation, such as friendships and the truth they have pursued, and of which knowledge is the most valuable as they continue to be leaders in the future. Dr. Botman then welcomed the deans of the graduate schools, in addition to Deans Dr. Noam Wasserman (SY SYMS), Dr. Karen Bacon (YC/SCW), Rabbi Dr. Yosef Kalinsky (Men’s Undergraduate Torah Studies), and Paul Russo (Katz School). The Deans announced how many degrees were being issued and requested that students be awarded degrees. President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman officially awarded all students their degrees, and applause filled the screen once again.
Valedictorians CJ Glicksman (YC), Shayna Doretsky (SSSB Beren), Yona Rom (SSSB Wilf), and Elisheva Cohen (SCW) all briefly spoke while students’ pictures scrolled through the screen, giving each senior a moment to shine despite not all being together in person. The video concluded with Dr. Botman thanking all viewers and congratulating all seniors before starting a slideshow of hugs and smiles, featuring the graduating class of 2020. It may not have been a typical graduation, but YU’s hard work to put together something interactive and exciting was surely appreciated by all.