For the first time ever, the University of Maryland, College Park hosted an alternative graduation ceremony on Sunday, May 21 to accommodate 22 observant Jewish students who were unable to attend ceremonies on Saturday due to Shabbat.
While the main campuswide graduation ceremony was held on May 21 as well, the individual commencement ceremonies for 19 of the 34 schools within the college were scheduled for Saturday during the Sabbath. Shabbat-observant Jewish students expressed significant disappointment when the graduation schedule was announced in March. The college was happy to assist when Rabbi Eli Backman, director of UMD Chabad, and Rabbi Ari Israel, director of Hillel, requested the administration hold an alternative ceremony on Sunday.
The commencement speaker was Paul Hamburger, a senior partner in the international law firm Proskauer Rose LLP and a member of the Chabad on Campus international advisory board. According to a news release about the ceremony, 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.”
“The University of Maryland values its students, not just academically, but it supports them whatever way they can in the bigger picture,” said Backman. “This is one example of that, where they wanted to make good for the students on this momentous occasion of graduation and not have them feel conflicted between their religion and their academics. Ultimately, it is a very important lesson for them in the rest of life when they have a similar conflict.”