Not Goodbye, Only See You Later: A Reflection on YU’s 93rd Annual Commencement

By: Hayley Goldberg  |  June 7, 2024

By Hayley Goldberg

The weather was beautiful on May 29 as people entered the Louis Armstrong Stadium for Yeshiva University’s 93rd annual commencement ceremony. A sea of graduating students dressed in dark blue robes and matching caps filled the chairs in the stadium. Families and friends gathered, helping with finishing touches, making sure everyone had enough water, and spreading congratulations. The class of 2024 would soon get to walk across the stage to accept their diplomas.

As you entered the stadium, there were people already lined up to hand attendees the graduation essentials: a program and a scratch off ticket. Intrigued, I reached into my bag to find a coin. I eagerly scratched at the surface of the card to find that I had won a complimentary slushie and a handheld fan. I made my way across the pavement and got my fan and slushy. Luckily, the sun was not shining too harshly and I did not need the fan for the ceremony. The slushie, however, I enjoyed promptly. Then, it was off to the stands to find a good seat.

Just as the last few stragglers found their way to their seats, the procession started. As students and alumni of YU made their way to their seats on the stage and floor, the crowd was able to look down and see students from the Beren campus entering near the stage and Wilf students entering from the back corner of the stadium. It was such a sight being able to see incredibly decorated graduation caps. So many were adorned with parting messages, favorite quotes, school emblems as well as many fun colors and designs. Following the entrance of the undergraduates and graduates were the faculty and rebbeim of YU, then the roshei yeshiva and President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman. Also in the processional was the graduating class of 1974, whose members came back for their 50th year reunion. 

This year’s graduation had a strong emphasis on YU’s efforts to help Israel as the country continues fighting its war against Hamas. Numerous photos and stories were shared, highlighting the trips that students and faculty went on this year. Aid was given all around Israel, from food for IDF soldiers to toys for the children of displaced families. There was a somber feel in the room as families of YU shared stories of fallen soldiers.

As graduation commenced, one speech in particular had a great impact on the YU community in light of the October 7 attack on Israel. 

The Presidential Medallion is an award that is given out during YU graduation. However, this award does not go to a student. This honor, the university’s highest recognition for global leadership, goes to someone who excels in their leadership capabilities, shows great morals, and goes above and beyond in their service for others. This year, the award was granted to Senator John Fetterman from Pennsylvania. It comes as no surprise that he was given the award as he has been incredibly vocal and outspoken for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel since the tragedies on October 7. 

Before Senator Fetterman accepted the award, he was introduced by President Berman. “Senator, I look up to you,” Berman joked as the crowd chuckled, “not just for your physical stature, but for your moral bearing.” 

President Berman continued to praise Senator Fetterman for a job well done on his outgoing support for Israel. “[He is] a living symbol of the values America holds dear: freedom against tyranny, unwavering support of our allies, and a firm commitment to safeguard democracy against those who seek its destruction.” Each of these values are exactly what this award stands for, especially as the war in Israel rages on. Senator Fetterman committed to helping Israel and doing the right thing even when it is not the easy thing to do. 

Senator Fetterman spoke with appreciation towards the YU community. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you for this incredible honor,” he began. Even in his moment, Senator Fetterman remained humble as he mentioned that the previous recipient of the award had helped invent the Iron Dome. “I don’t belong in that company, I truly don’t,” he remarked. “I’m just a senator with a big mouth that happens to be committed to standing with Israel.” Cheers and applause sounded throughout the entire stadium. 

Then, the senator continued to reflect upon his own graduation from Harvard University 25 years ago. The applause stopped. 

“I have been profoundly disappointed [in] Harvard’s inability to stand up for the Jewish community after October 7… I do not fundamentally believe that it is right for me to wear this today,” said Fetterman. 

He then removed the stole of his alma mater in continued support for Israel and the Jewish people. 

A rupture of clapping and cheering engulfed the entire stadium, the gesture receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. No longer adorning the red stole, the medallion for the award stood out against his black robes. 

After Senator Fetterman’s speech concluded, the graduating class stood up to celebrate and dance as Mordechai Shapiro entertained the crowd. It was then time for the deans to formally present the graduates. Over 1,700 students graduated in the class of 2024. President Berman conferred each of the degrees granted as the seniors walked the stage. The students lined up one-by-one to receive their diplomas. As their names were read, cheers throughout the stadium could be heard from all different directions.

Though it was time to celebrate, graduating senior Miriam Felzenstein (SSSB ‘24)  had a moment of nostalgia. “I was so sad it ended,” Felzenstein told the YU Observer. “I felt like [in] earlier years I didn’t enjoy [my time at YU] as much as I should have.” Yet, Felzenstein reflected on how she overcame the challenges she faced throughout her college years. “I had so many issues adjusting to the Hebrew department [and dual curriculum] coming from public school… but my last grade to ever be entered was an A in Hebrew.” What a reward it must have been to end her time at YU on such a strong, positive note.

Jacob Katz (YC ‘24) was one of many students to represent YU undergraduates on the posters around campus as well as at graduation. He reflected on his appreciation for the event. “While my face being posted all over graduation was a surprise at first, it quickly became an iconic moment for me and fellow graduates,” Katz told the YU Observer. “Graduation was a showstopper of an experience!” 

Everyone left the stadium that day with nachas for all the graduates who had made it through their time at YU. Though they have officially ended their time at Yeshiva University, the world awaits them as they continue on the next stages of their journeys. Congratulations and mazal tov to the class of 2024! Hatzlacha on your continued growth and paths that you will lead.

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University