By David Snyder
A 1963 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, Pikesville resident Michael Benson had been eagerly awaiting his class’ 50-year reunion this spring.
That is, until he learned of the event’s date.
A few months ago, Benson found out the school had scheduled its graduation banquet, which was preceded by a VIP cocktail reception to honor Class of ‘63 alumni, for May 15 — the first day of Shavuot.
Benson, 71, notified the school of the conflict and alerted organizers that he, as well as others who observe the holiday, would not be able to attend. He tried to persuade organizers to change the date. They responded by telling him that they would do their best to accommodate everyone.
“We have a reasonably good percentage of Jewish people in our class,” Benson said. “You have to be sensitive to that kind of thing and plan accordingly.”
However, when Benson’s formal invitation came in the mail early last month, he said he was shocked to find that the date had not been changed.
“I was irate. I was very, very upset. I’m still upset about it,” Benson said. “They may not have known about [Shavuot] when they initially scheduled it, but once they knew about it, they should have done something about it, and they didn’t. They had time.”
According to Janice Batzold, the School of Pharmacy’s executive director of development and alumni affairs and the organizer Benson has spoken to on numerous occasions, time was the one element planners did not have.
Batzold explained that because the 50-year reunion is arranged in concert with the school’s graduation ceremonies, she must take into account the current students’ schedules when planning the event. The school’s graduate students finished classes May 3 and participated in day-long licensure review sessions May 6 through May 13. And, the University of Maryland at Baltimore’s general commencement ceremonies are held May 17. After that day, Batzold said, a majority of students scatter — either returning home or traveling to the location of their post-college jobs.
In the end, it left the school with a narrow window, between May 14 and May 16, for its graduation ceremonies and corresponding 50-year reunion.
Batzold admitted that when the date was initially chosen — planning got under way late last May — she and other organizers were not aware of the conflict with Shavuot. After learning of the issue several weeks ago, she said she tried multiple avenues to get the date changed.
Ultimately, she was unable to find a solution.
“It took quite a while to determine there was no other option,” said Batzold, who added that she engaged in discussions with students and faculty and pored over various calendars searching for a new date.
There were even talks about canceling the event all together. However, Batzold spoke to several alumni, including a handful who were Jewish, who advised it was best to keep the day.
“We do such due diligence trying to accommodate the many different people that we call our constituents,” Batzold said. “We’re always trying to be considerate to avoid conflict. It’s so very unfortunate because we do try so hard to take everyone into consideration.”
In addition to contacting his alma mater when he learned of the date, Benson reached out to local politicians, sending letters to the offices
of Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Ben Cardin. Cardin’s staff referred Benson to State Sen. Jim Brochin.
Brochin’s staff reached out to the University of Maryland for a solution on behalf of Benson.
“They seemed like it was probably something in the future they could work on,” said Marc Lazerow, Brochin’s legislative aide. “But at that point, it was too late. Imagine scheduling something a year out, sending out invites and planning everything … how do you stop it at that point?”
Benson may be able to take solace that an additional reunion celebration will be held Saturday, Oct. 19. Let’s hope it’s slated for after sundown.
Either way, that doesn’t take away Benson’s frustration at not being able to attend last Wednesday.
“It’s a milestone event,” Benson said. “How many times can you go to a 50-year reunion? There is a level of disappointment.”
David Snyder is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org