By Jon Orbach
For the Mitzpeh
A number of observant students will be left out on graduation, as some schools’ commencement ceremonies fall on Shabbat, according to this university’s official commencement website. While the campus-wide ceremony will still be held on a Sunday, 19 of 34 schools’ commencement ceremonies will be held on the Jewish day of rest.
One of those schools is the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Dean Lucy Dalglish said the college has never had its graduation on Saturday until this year.
Dalglish, who was not involved in the decision-making process, was told the reason some graduation ceremonies are on Saturday this year is due to one important venue’s unavailability, which forced graduation from two days to three, she said.
“Some of the bigger colleges used Cole [Field House], and Cole is under construction,” she said. “My hope is that next year will be better for Merrill College student schedules.”
Among those affected is modern Orthodox student Naomi Ehrenkranz. The psychology and English major can’t attend either of her schools’ graduation ceremonies because both fall on Saturday, but she didn’t expect much budge from the administration regarding dates.
“I highly doubt they would move several huge graduation ceremonies for a few students who cannot make it,” she wrote in an email. “I would have thought they would have taken it into account, but theoretically, they don’t have to move anything for us.”
UMD Chabad Rabbi Eli Backman echoed those sentiments.
“Reality is, in America, the weekend is when everybody’s off of work and makes the most convenient sense,” he said. “So that’s the tension and the challenge.”
While he believes that in an ideal world, graduation wouldn’t fall on a holy Jewish day, he understands that the main ceremony is on Sunday and that there isn’t much they can do at this point.
“The other part of the challenge is, once they announce a date, they really don’t ever want to change it, because parents book flights and hotels and travel plans immediately upon it,” said Backman.
Observant students who aren’t able to attend their ceremonies seem to be out of luck, but that has no bearing on their graduation status.
“It’s kind of sad that I won’t get to go to my own graduation,” Ehrenkranz wrote. “It’s somewhat of a letdown, but it’s not like they give us our actual diplomas then anyway, so I’m okay with it. Such is life.”
While Ehrenkranz, Backman and Dalglish said there isn’t any accommodation for religious students, senior electrical engineering major Rebecca Grossman is not sitting idly by.
“I am deeply bothered by the fact that there are any commencement ceremonies on Saturday,” she wrote in an email. “Since the university is not willing to change the dates of graduation, the only accommodation option I could see was to coordinate an alternative program with the university.”
The senior wrote that she has gotten confirmation from 27 to 30 students whose graduation ceremonies are on Saturday who’d be interested so far. Grossman has high hopes.
“I did a quick estimate based on the number of graduates, the number of family and friends who would be coming, as well as students who said they would come to support their friends, and counted over 175 people who would be at the event,” she wrote. “I estimate that the number will easily reach 200 as we collect more data.”
We will keep you updated if this story develops.