May 19, 2009 — Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater was alive with energy, excitement and emotion at Yeshiva University’s 78th Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, May 14. President Richard M. Joel conferred honorary degrees upon Rabbi Dr. Jacob Haberman, founder of real estate ownership and management company Haberman & Haberman; Sylvia Axelrod Herskowitz, former director of the YU Museum; Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld of Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills, NY; and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of the Broadway hit In the Heights. Dr. David Shatz, the highly popular professor of philosophy at YU’s Stern College for Women gave the commencement address and was awarded the Presidential Medallion, the highest honor bestowed on a member of the faculty or administration for excellent service.
Shatz, who graduated as Yeshiva College’s valedictorian 40 years earlier, paid tribute to the institution that had nurtured his intellectual and spiritual development. “Far more than I have done for Yeshiva University, it has done for me,” he said, recalling fondly “the schools that educated me, the teachers I loved, and the students I taught.”
Addressing the Class of 2009, YU President Richard M. Joel encouraged them to repair the world by sharing their blessings with their community, with the Jewish people and the world. “It is not always easy but it always matters. The generation you join is one that is hungry for meaning and community,” the President said. “Be prepared to join with them while recognizing difference and even profound disagreement. All this you have been taught. All this you have learned. It’s time to lovingly lead.”
Uri Westrich of Teaneck, NJ, valedictorian of Yeshiva College, picked up on the theme of teamwork in his speech. “During my time at YU, I found time and again that my efforts were more productive when working with other people,” Westrich said to his fellow graduates. “Our duty as Jewish people is to look past our differences and work together to create a better future.”
Brooklyn’s Edmond Ainehsazan, originally from Tehran, Iran, was the James Striar School of General Jewish Studies valedictorian. “YU has provided me with an exceptional education where I could pursue my college degree together with enriching my Jewish knowledge,” reflected Ainehsazan, a biology major who plans on attending medical school. “It was a once in a lifetime experience that enabled me to flourish both intellectually and spiritually.”
The other valedictorians this year included Sara Enna Twersky of Riverdale, NY, Stern College’s Judaic studies valedictorian; Grace Charles of New York City; Stern College’s general studies valedictorian; Moshe Fink of Riverdale, Sy Syms School of Business men’s valedictorian; Chava Schwartz of Highland Park, NJ, Sy Syms women’s valedictorian; Yaakov Ehrenkranz of Memphis, TN, Mazer Yeshiva Program valedictorian; Roy Hilf of Haifa, Israel and San Paolo, Brazil, Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies valedictorian; and Evan Hirschhorn of Spring Valley, NY, Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program valedictorian.
In all, more than 2,000 graduate students in the fields of law, medicine, social work, education, Jewish studies and psychology, as well as undergraduate students from Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women and Sy Syms School of Business, will be awarded degrees this commencement season.