By: Yosef Lemel  | 

In Reversal of Original Plan, Commencement to be Held In-Person With Virtual Option

Yeshiva University’s 90th Annual Commencement Ceremony will be held at the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center on Wednesday, May 26, reversing an initial decision to hold an entirely virtual program. The celebration will be live-streamed for those who cannot physically attend. 

President Ari Berman emailed the update to the student body on Thursday, April 22, and a follow-up email with additional information was sent by The Committee on Ceremonial Occasions on Thursday, May 6.

Check-in will open at 11:30 a.m., and the event is scheduled to be held from 1 p.m. to approximately 3 p.m. Attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test taken before the ceremony or “proof of recovery” from COVID-19 within the last three months, as per an FAQ released by the university. Students who participate in on-campus testing on May 24 will have their results expedited to attend the in-person event.

Social distancing and mask-wearing will be required during the program, and the number of guests “will be limited.” The committee did not respond to The Commentator’s inquiries regarding more precise figures of the permitted number of guests. “Beverages and light snacks” will be available to attendees for a nominal fee. 

Details regarding the commencement speakers have not yet been released.

The FAQs page also noted that students who do not join in person will not have their $150 graduation fee refunded. “The graduation fee covers many aspects of graduation, not merely the Commencement event itself,”  the page said. “This includes students’ final evaluation of their degree eligibility and other ancillary costs, as well as the printing and mailing of your diploma. Therefore, there will not be any refunds of this fee.”

“A ceremony that highlights our values and celebrates your achievements and resilience is best done in-person,” Berman wrote in his April 22 email. “And in a year likened to a dimmer switch, we adjust according to the changes of our circumstances. We will once again be able to celebrate together with family and friends.”

The university’s original plan to hold commencement exercises on a fully virtual platform was due to the “public health and safety guidance of New York City and New York State, as well as guidance” from the university’s medical director, Dr. Robert Van Amorengen, according to Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Selma Botman. 

Berman credited the shift to an in-person format to “recent changes in the directives from the Governor’s office,” which were released on April 12. The guidelines mandate health protocols such as social distancing, mask-wearing and filling out health screening questionnaires, “regardless of location or scale.” 

Many seniors expressed excitement at the prospects of an in-person ceremony. “This year has been anything but normal, and I’m so excited to have an in person commencement and be able to celebrate with my fellow classmates!!” expressed Beren Sy Syms School of Business President Alex Brody (SSSB ‘21). “A HUGE thank you to Aliza Berenholz and her team for working nonstop to pull this off on such short notice!!”

Beren Senior Class Representative Leah Joshowitz (SCW ‘21) was similarly thankful to Berenholz-Peled, the chair of the university’s Committee on Ceremonial Occasions, which is organizing the event. “I know this year has thrown a lot of curveballs so I am very appreciative for everything Aliza and the entire University Events team has done and continues to do to make an in-person graduation a reality!” said Joshowitz. 

Benji Halpern (SSSB ‘21), the Wilf senior class representative, likewise stated, “Decisions like these show students that the administration actually listens and is willing to work for and with students.” 

Almost all of Yeshiva University’s graduate schools — including the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and the Katz School of Health and Science — still plan to hold their commencement ceremonies in fully virtual formats. The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law changed course from an online event and will be holding an in-person commencement ceremony at SummerStage in Central Park.

Currently, several other New York-based universities are continuing with their plans to hold virtual commencement ceremonies, including Columbia University, New York University, Hunter College and Baruch College. Some students previously appealed to the university administration to consider holding an in-person ceremony. When students were first informed that commencement exercises would be held virtually, Yeshiva Student Union President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21) requested approval from the Office of Student Life for an in-person graduation ceremony at Votee Park in Teaneck, NJ. While his specific request was denied, an in-person ceremony is now being planned.

This article was updated on May 6 to include new information that was released about commencement.

Photo Caption: Commencement exercises will be held in-person this year. 

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University