This past March, Aaron Ebriani, a Bruin graduating this June, informed me that this year’s departmental commencement ceremonies fall on either Saturday (June 10th) or Sunday (June 11th). As fellow a Shabbat-observant Jew, he asked me to sign his petition to have a ceremony which observant Jews would be able to attend. But as a busy student juggling work with my genetics final at the time, graduation was the last thing on my mind. In fact, prior to Ebriani contacting me and letting me know about the Shabbat/Shavuot dilemma, I had no idea when my graduation even was. Once informed of the issue, I wholeheartedly supported his cause and forwarded the petition to anyone I thought could be interested.
A month later, I asked him for an update on the graduation and was informed that after weeks of work, Ebriani was successful in having UCLA’s Dean of Students, Maria Blandizzi, ensure that departmental ceremonies will never fall on Shavuot again and that arrangements for such accommodations have been noted in the UCLA calendar, up to the 2024 academic year. This was a huge achievement. In regards to an actual graduation ceremony, however, he was looking for someone interested in taking charge to help make it happen. In the beginning of April, I accepted the challenge and became involved in the graduation scene.
Ebriani forwarded to me all of the contacts I would need and I went on to write email after email to help our plan come to fruition. Blandizzi introduced me to Mike Cohn, the director of Student Organizations, Leadership and Engagement (SOLE). He has been guiding me through the entire process and has been a pleasure to work with. We worked closely together to get the venue for the Jewish graduation: Schoenberg Hall. We are continuing to work together through weekly meetings to discuss the logistics, program schedule and university funding for the graduation.
Thus far, the whole process had been a huge success. Prior to taking on this role, I had no idea how to make a program budget or fill out a funding application, and so this has truly been a learning process. Although we originally expected to only be able to accommodate 30-40 students, over 73 students have now registered to be a part of the ceremony (registration has since ended). The commencement ceremony will include Ha’Tikva by graduating members of JEWkbox, UCLA’s Jewish a capella group, an Israeli graduation song mashup by graduating seniors, student speakers, and a keynote speaker. The dean of the College of Letters and Sciences has also confirmed her attendance.
Every year, many cultures, ethnicities, and religions host student-led graduation ceremonies, so we believe that, scheduling aside, it’s important to have a Jewish commencement. Hopefully, in the coming years, there will be individuals to take over and ensure the continuity of UCLA’s Jewish graduation. (If you are interested in assisting with this first-ever Jewish grad or want to be the person to plans next year’s ceremony, please feel free to contact me!)
This is truly a group effort: Cohn, Hillel at UCLA, and Hillel’s assistant director, Mike Amerikaner, have been so patient and helpful in this process. I also want to give a special thank-you to seniors Aaron Ebriani, Ethan Youssefzadeh, Tiffany Matian, Tova Hezghian, and Sarah Meshkanian for being on the planning committee.
Looking forward to seeing you at graduation in June!
We’re looking for donors to sponsor some of our costs: waiters to help set up and clean up, as well as refreshments, pastries, cake, decorations, etc. If you are interested in supporting our cause, please donate here.