New commencement dates conflict with religious holidays

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Graduation Caps and Gowns sold in previous years in the UConn Bookstore.  Photo by Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus

Graduation Caps and Gowns sold in previous years in the UConn Bookstore. Photo by Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus

The University of Connecticut has rescheduled the commencement ceremony for Oct. 9-11, 2020, overlapping with two Jewish holidays. 

The new commencement dates fall on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, which follow Sukkot, a week-long observance that celebrates the pilgrimage Jews made to the Temple in Jerusalem before the Jewish diaspora. 

Shira Tall, a recent UConn graduate in human rights and communication was going to walk in May before commencement was rescheduled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“In an ideal world, I would love to see the celebration moved. If that can’t happen, then I would hope by raising awareness, it will ensure no other Husky should have to be left out of such an important date and milestone,” Tall said. “Individuals have various levels of observance and shouldn’t have to choose between a religious holiday or a secular life event.” 

The rescheduled commencement dates may conflict with more than just the Jewish community of graduating students, Tall said. 

“Aside from my religious observance, I know other students will likely be settling into new environments too, which would make an October celebration more difficult,” Tall said. “I have no doubt that careful planning and thoughtful consideration went into rescheduling this date, but from what I hear, a lot of my friends feel as though there was no consultation with the class of 2020.”

Tall said that UConn could have made a more collaborative decision with the class of 2020 about the rescheduled commencement.

“I would make it collaborative between faculty, staff, and graduates. For people who doubt the creativity and imagination of students, I’ve seen ideas such as ‘drive-in graduation,’ like that of a movie theater, or virtual ones too,” Tall said. “For many students, graduation is more than just a ceremony. At the end of the day, what comes first is everyone’s health and safety.”

Joni Weintraub, an eighth-semester anthropology major, said she is happy commencement was rescheduled even though she cannot attend.

“I think it would be really disappointing if there was absolutely no commencement ceremony for the class of 2020,” Weintraub said. “I personally won’t be able to make it, I have a fellowship teaching English in Israel for next year. One of my sorority sisters will be in veterinary school out of the country next year so she also won’t be able to attend. So I get the sense that a significant number of 2020 graduates won’t be able to make the October graduation.” 

A small number of Jewish students at UConn observe the holidays that conflict with commencement, Weintraub said. 

“Ultimately I think it would be great if commencement was not scheduled during a Jewish holiday but in earnest, I don’t think there’s a significant group who would not come to commencement because of this,” Weintraub said. 

Tall said that the number of students who observe the holiday should not matter. 

“The most rewarding part about graduation is being able to share in this accomplishment with your family, friends, and the communities and organizations you belong to,” Tall said. “By having commencement on Jewish holidays, not all individuals are able to participate. Even if not everyone observes this holiday, it is important all identities feel protected.”

Thumbnail Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus

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Naiela Suleiman is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at naiela.suleiman@uconn.edu

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