The Yeshiva University 90th Commencement Exercises will be held at the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, New York, on Wednesday, May 26, at 1 p.m. EDT. The event marks the return to an in-person ceremony and will also be livestreamed for those unable to attend.
Eight students will receive the distinction of being named valedictorians, an honor that reflects their extraordinary academic achievements. As they enter this new and exciting stage in their lives, they bring with them not only the exceptional academic, extracurricular and social experiences they received throughout their undergraduate years at YU but also the Jewish values and market-ready skills to achieve great success in their personal and professional lives.
YU News spoke with each of them to learn about who they are, their experiences at YU and their plans for the future.
Sara Schapiro of Bergenfield, New Jersey, has been selected as the valedictorian for both Stern College for Women and Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies. She double majored in history and Judaic studies, and during her time at YU, she wrote for Hi Sichati, the weekly Parsha newsletter put out by Beren Campus students, and was on the editorial board of Chronos, YU’s history journal.
Schapiro enjoyed the diverse and interesting classes she took while at YU. She is also grateful to her knowledgeable professors from whom “she learned so much” as well as for the University’s librarians who were “amazingly helpful.” Schapiro also appreciated the chance to participate in the BA-MA program that Stern College has with the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and take advanced courses at Revel. She feels particularly privileged to have had the opportunity to learn Torah from Rabbi Moshe Kahn, professor of Jewish Studies, during her four years at Stern College.
Schapiro enjoyed the special relationships she formed with her fellow students, noting, “Learning together with some of my intelligent and thoughtful peers was a major highlight of my experience at Stern.” After graduation, Schapiro plans to attend the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies for Women and pursue further studies at Revel.
Yoni Sacknovitz, from West Hempstead, New York, is graduating with a major in biology and plans to pursue a career in medicine. He was a busy peer tutor during his time at YU, helping students in Hebrew, organic chemistry and physics. He was also a teaching assistant for two classes, Principles of Biology and General Chemistry. He has played on the tennis team since he started at YU and was named the team’s captain. Sacknovitz was also involved with research both at YU and Montefiore/Einstein throughout his college career and was an EMT, saying, “I am grateful for the opportunity to give COVID vaccinations to my fellow students at YU.”
As a fourth-generation YU student, he says, “YU has been more than just a college. It is a lifestyle with which I was not only raised but that I hope to instill in my own family.” He appreciates the excellent education he received both inside and outside the classroom and is “most proud of the YU values that I have gained over my undergraduate experience.” Sacknovitz will always “be thankful to the rebbeim, teachers, coaches and classmates who have contributed to my YU experience.”
A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Noah Tradonsky is graduating with a major in finance and a minor in management. He was involved in various clubs and activities while at YU, including the International Club and the Museum Club, and played intracollege soccer and frisbee. He also consistently attended night seder in the Glueck Beis Midrash. “Coming to YU was the most rewarding experience of my life,” said Tradonsky. “It was the warmest and most encouraging ‘training ground’ for me to develop into a hardworking, G-d-fearing Eved Hashem [servant of G-d] who plans to take the religious values and professional skills I learned here and utilize them in the broader world of business.”
Tali Goldman majored in business intelligence and marketing analytics with a minor in computer science and plans to start as a data analyst at Bloomberg in July. She was involved in the TAMID and Women in Business clubs and co-founded Like a Girl Academy, an online learning platform dedicated to empowering the next generation of women in financial literacy.
“My experience at YU was incredible!” said Goldman, who hails from Highland Park, New Jersey. “I loved how I was able to stay focused on my religious growth by learning Torah from incredible Jewish leaders, attending shiurim [lectures] in my free time and having chavrusas [study sessions] with friends. I also gained a tremendous amount from my secular classes and feel ready to enter the business world and put all of my new skills to use.”
Aharon Zazulia majored in business intelligence and marketing analytics with a minor in marketing at Sy Syms School of Business. He recently moved back to his hometown of Denver, Colorado, with his wife, Aviva (Rosen) ’21S, and will look back with great memories of his time at YU and the activities in which he was involved. He was a co-president of the Blood Drive Club as well as a co-president and founder of the Avatar: The Last Airbender Club. He was also the director of operations for the 2020 Seforim Sale and helped maintain the College EDge website this past year.
Bendahan, who is from the Canary Islands of Spain, double majored in mathematics and psychology. In his time at YU, he was involved in many activities including serving as president of the International Club, in which he helped connect and support international students, and the captain of the soccer team, where “I had the opportunity to train with people from all over the world and improve my soccer skills.”
He often served as chazzan [cantor] for the JSS and Sephardic minyanim on campus, a service he enjoyed performing on his home island of Gran Canaria, which has a community of approximately 40 Jews. After graduation, Bendahan plans to start a business importing typical spirits from the Canary Islands.
Originally from Woodmere, New York, Kaminetsky is currently living in Bayit Vegan, Israel. The mathematical economics major most appreciated what he learned in YU’s Judaic Studies program. “I gained so much from the Masmidim Honors program at YU,” said Kaminetsy. “It provided a structure that was incredibly conducive to my religious growth during my time at YU.” He especially enjoyed night seder in Glueck and Halacha Kollel [learning group] in the mornings. “Great learning, great chevra [friend group] and great breakfast—shoutout to Rabbi Radner!” Following graduation, he plans to dedicate the next several years to extensive Torah study.
Alexei (Shmuel) Antonov majored in biology due to his love of the natural sciences and hopes to apply this knowledge to improving clinical therapies as a future doctor. He grew up in Cresskill, New Jersey, and lived there until he began YU, at which time his family moved to Brookline, Massachusetts. “I didn’t grow up in an observant home,” said Antonov, “but I always gravitated toward gaining more knowledge of Judaism,” having attended Mevaseret in Israel before coming to YU. He has found that his YU education has not only nurtured his religious curiosity but also his secular curiosity.
He enjoys doing research and spent three summers in a neurosurgical lab and one summer doing cardiovascular research, which led to two publications and one abstract, respectively. He was involved in the Red Cross Club at YU and has recently been volunteering every day at the Greater Boston Food Bank.
“As an Honors student, I was privileged to take engaging courses, which have made me more well-rounded and critically analytical,” said Antonov. “The IBC program has offered me a holistic and broad range of Judaic studies that have taught me not only about Judaism but also how to incorporate Judaism into my everyday life. I fully intend to carry the teachings and values which YU has instilled in me into every aspect of my life moving forward.”