Bracha Miriam Turner
On Thursday, June 9th, close to 80 students graduated from UCLA in a historic ceremony exclusively for Jewish students. While the university-wide graduation ceremony took place on Friday, allowing all students to attend, several departmental commencement ceremonies conflicted with Shabbat and Shavuot. As a result of a petition signed by nearly 120 students, a separate ceremony was held a day earlier, with close to 500 people attending to celebrate the momentous occasion.
There was an intimate feeling of Jewish unity and pride at the event. Several students lauded Jewish classmates active in the student governing body at UCLA. In a departure from the usual remarks offered at a university commencement ceremony, the words “Beit Hamikdash,” “Moshiach,” “tikkun olam,” and other Jewish terminology appeared in all the speeches. Aaron Ebriani, who who took the initiative to organize the event, encouraged all attendees to undertake one good deed to change the world for the better. Ethan Yousefzadeh, another student, offered a dvar Torah. Dara Abaei, from Jewish Unity Network, offered the closing remarks, suggesting that all the students, who were privileged to obtain a higher education, should participate in the Jewish community in leadership roles.
Dean Maria Blandizzi presided over the graduation ceremony. Afterwards, a light reception was held, and Chabad of UCLA organized a booth where many participants donned tefillin and committed to lighting Shabbat candles.
“It was a real kiddush Hashem to see all different types of Jews coming together regardless of affiliation, and you really felt the oneness in the audience,” remarked one parent.
Rabbi Dovid Gurevitch of Chabad of UCLA noted how much more work needed to be done when the fraction of students attending was only a small percentage of the Jewish student population. “There’s over 600 Jewish students and only 80 participated today.”