On Thursday, May 30, 2019, more than 600 students from Yeshiva University’s undergraduate schools were presented with their degrees at YU’s 88th commencement exercises, held at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, delivered the keynote address and received an honorary doctorate, the 794th degree conferred since the practice began in 1933. YU honorary degree recipients have included Nobel laureates (Albert Einstein), celebrated politicians (Joseph Lieberman and Golda Meir) and noted jurists (Hon. Sandra Day O’Connor) along with renowned scientists, artists, humanitarians and philanthropists too numerous to mention.
In his introduction to the conferral of the honorary degree, Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, cited Friedman’s longstanding support of Israel as reflecting the values and goals of Yeshiva University. He also praised Friedman for a life devoted to making a positive impact upon the Jewish people and society at large.
Friedman emphasized that his life has been deeply influenced by YU’s “teaching, its principles, its core values” and spoke about the many members of his family who attended YU, including his great-uncle, Dr. Pinchos Churgin, the founder of the Teachers Institute, and his wife, Tammy, an alumna of Stern College for Women.
In charging the assembled graduates, Friedman encouraged that “whatever path you choose, bring to it a sense of purpose and a quest for meaning such that what you do matters more than just a paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with making a good living, but that alone won’t make you happy or bring us to a better place.”
Friedman underlined the importance of basing one’s principles upon a commitment to truth: “Follow the truth wherever it leads. Embrace it, confront it, challenge it, and, if you don’t like it, make it better. But always live by the truth.”
In his own address to the Class of 2019, Dr. Berman exhorted them to “choose Jewish history.” Describing this as an era of unprecedented opportunity for the Jewish people, Dr. Berman enjoined the students to “place yourself in this greater context, see your life through this prism and have this as a guiding force in all of your actions, both large and small.”
He reminded them that the purpose of their YU experience—their immersion in Torah study, the quality of their education, the networks formed of friends and peers—has been to prepare them to “lead lives of great personal and professional success and to inspire you to be a leader in the world of tomorrow, a leader for the Jewish people and all of society, a role model for our Jewish values in ways large and small, from your everyday encounters with family, friends and colleagues, to the major decisions and transitions in your life.”
During the ceremony, nine undergraduate valedictorians received special recognition for their outstanding academic achievements. They included: Samuel Gelman (Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies), Asher Finkelstein (Mazer School of Talmudic Studies), Michael Ozery (James Striar School of General Studies), Rochel Hirsch (Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies), Liam Eliach (Yeshiva College), Aryeh-Leib Deutsch (Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program), Aliza Lobell-Klein and Alexander Selesny (Sy Syms School of Business), and Peri Zundell (Stern College for Women).
The classes of 1959 and 1969 were also honored as they marked the 60th and 50th anniversary of their graduations, respectively, along with representatives of the class of 1949.
In total, more than 1700 degrees were conferred upon students across Yeshiva University during this commencement season.