By: Sruli Fruchter and Elisheva Kohn  | 

2021 Commencement Ceremonies to be Held Virtually for YU Graduate and Undergraduate Schools

All Yeshiva University commencement ceremonies for undergraduate and graduate schools will be held virtually this year, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Selma Botman announced to students early this afternoon via email. The university is tentatively planning an in-person celebration for undergraduate seniors, pending “approval from local public health officials,” however, no further details were released regarding that event. 

The 90th Commencement Ceremony for undergraduate students will take place on May 26 at 1:00 p.m. Graduate school ceremonies are scheduled between May 24 and June 10. The university “looked into many options” for indoor and outdoor venues “to make an in-person commencement a reality,” Botman said in her email. “Unfortunately, following the public health and safety guidance of New York City and New York State, as well as guidance from our medical director,” she wrote, “we came to the conclusion that we could not have an in-person event attended by thousands of people.“

This decision comes only a few weeks after the university administration sent undergraduate students a survey allowing them to indicate their preferences for commencement. Botman did not immediately respond to The Commentator’s request for comment regarding the results of that survey.

On Feb. 16, members of the administration — such as Aliza Berenholz, the university’s senior director of events, and Linda Stone, the former director of student events — met with student council members from both Wilf and Beren campuses to discuss the possibility of an in-person ceremony.

“I was very confused when reading Provost Botmans email — I personally left [the meeting] feeling that select administrators were passionate in exploring the possibilities on how to give the graduating seniors the graduation they always dreamed about while keeping everything covid safe,” said Beren Sy Syms School of Business Student Council (SSSBSC) President Alex Brody (SSSB ‘21), who was present at the meeting. “The conversation about commencement is still continuing and I see myself and other student leaders having many meetings with different administrators over the next couple of weeks.”

In light of recently loosened COVID-19 restrictions in NYS and at YU, many students were hoping for an in-person ceremony. Indoor dining resumed at the Wilf and Beren campuses on Feb. 12, and the Gottesman Pool on the Wilf Campus is set to re-open this semester after a year-long hiatus. Several in-person events for students were also held over the past month, including a comedy night on Beren Campus and a snowtubing activity. Additionally, YU’s high schools — Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA) and Yeshiva University High School for Girls — organized in-person graduation ceremonies for their senior classes in parking lots with adherence to safety protocols in 2020.

Following Botman’s announcement, the “Yeshiva University 2021” WhatsApp group chat — which consists of 130 undergraduate seniors — saw an increase in activity of numerous students voicing their discontent about the university’s plans for 2021 Commencement. 

“This is bogus,” wrote Yeshiva Student Union President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21) on the chat. “It's so easy to just rent a football field somewhere, spread out some chairs, wear masks, and have a livestream.” 

Earlier today, after receiving Botman’s email, Greenberg submitted an event form to the Office of Student Life (OSL) requesting approval for an “IN-PERSON GRADUATION AT VOTEE PARK.” Senior Director of Student Life Rabbi Josh Weisberg confirmed he received the submission and indicated that he cannot, at this time, answer “whether OSL will approve the event” due to the “many factors that need to be considered.”

Some seniors acknowledged YU’s efforts but were disappointed about the news and hoped that the plans would change. “I greatly appreciate all the effort that the university has already put into planning this year's commencement ceremony,” shared Beren Senior Representative Leah Joshowitz (SCW ‘21). “However, many seniors have expressed disappointment with the current layout. Therefore, I would love to have the opportunity for student leaders to partner with the administration to re-examine the current plans in order to create a commencement ceremony that has as much of an in-person aspect as possible.”

Other students felt the university should reimburse them for the commencement fee, given that it will be held online. “They charge seniors every year a $150 graduation fee,” said Meir Tolchin (SSSB ‘21). “Somehow this wasn't covered in the $60k tuition, and the assumption is that the fee is to cover the commencement ceremony. As the ceremony is no longer happening, I think it's reasonable to give the money back to students.”

In May 2020, commencement was held virtually, which received mixed reactions from the YU student body, as well as a petition by the Class of 2020 demanding that YU hold an in-person event at a later date, which did not receive a public response from the university. 

“It was definitely frustrating to learn that this year’s commencement will be virtual instead of in person,” Wilf Senior Representative Benji Halpern (SSSB ‘21) told The Commentator. “While I’m sure this was a difficult decision for the administration, and one they would prefer not to have made, I would appreciate if the commencement decision was reconsidered and if student leaders were given an opportunity to collaborate with administration to create a commencement with as much of an in-person element as possible.”

This is a developing story. 

Photo Caption: The 2021 Commencement logo
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University