By Ben Cooper
Maryland Hillel will hold its second-ever alternate graduation on May 17 to give Jewish students an option to attend a commencement not occurring on Shabbat or Shavuot.
This university’s main commencement ceremony will take place Sunday, May 20, with individual college and school ceremonies taking place May 19-21.
Shabbat is observed from Friday night to Saturday night, and this year, Shavuot begins the evening of May 19 and lasts until the evening of May 21, which means observant Jews would be unable to attend the main graduation ceremony.
The idea for an alternate graduation, which will be held this year at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, started last year because this university changed graduation from two days to three days, said Shuli Tropp, an organizer of the event and Hillel’s director of institutional advancement.
“Many of our Shabbat-observing students were upset to miss their graduation, so we organized the alternate program as a way to celebrate graduation without compromising their religious observances,” Tropp said.
Doors will open at the Clarice at 5:30 p.m., and family photos will be offered before the commencement ceremony takes place at 6 p.m. Afterwards, there will be a celebratory dinner at Hillel at 7:30 p.m.
There are expected to be about 40-45 students participating in the commencement and around 250 guests, a slight increase over last year’s numbers, Tropp said.
Without the alternate graduation, some seniors, such as Hanna Tova Glicksman, an economics and government and politics major, and Amos Remer, an aerospace engineering major, wouldn’t attend graduation at all.
Both Remer and Glicksman said they would be attending the alternate graduation because of religious conflicts on the dates of the main university graduation.
“I’m an Orthodox Jew and I didn’t feel comfortable, even if I wouldn’t be violating anything on Shavuot,” Remer said. “I didn’t feel comfortable attending the main commencement or my department’s commencement.”
Glicksman said she’ll be out of town during the weekend of the main graduation, but still wouldn’t have gone even if she were on campus.
“I’m going to be spending [Shavuot] in Baltimore with family,” Glicksman said. “Even if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t feel comfortable participating in the school’s commencement if I was here.”
The commencement speaker for the alternate graduation will be Alyza Lewin, a Jewish attorney in Washington, D.C. Lewin practices law with her father, Nathan Lewin, who escaped with his parents from Poland in 1939.
Students and their families are also able to purchase a Maryland Hillel mezuzah, this year’s graduation gift, when they register for the event. The mezuzah with a scroll costs $60 and costs $36 without one.
Glicksman said she understands the challenge this university faces in trying to accomodate all of its students for graduation, but thinks it would be good if it took the Jewish holidays into account when planning the main commencement.
“It would be nice,” Glicksman said. “Maryland has a pretty large Jewish population, but obviously we are a very small percentage of the overall student population.”