Graduation 2020 – An experience like no other


“I can imagine in the future if someone says, ‘I graduated in 2020,’ people will know that means something different,” says Brian Rohr, who this year co-taught 12th grade in Neveh Shalom’s Tichon program and whose wife, Sarah, is graduating from Portland State University.
Whether graduating from middle school, high school or college, young people this year say they feel they have missed important milestones and academic opportunities while facing an uncertain future.
“I know that high schools are trying their best, but I feel as if everyone is trying to gloss over the fact that this will be a big hole in our academic journeys,” says Zachary Goldsmith (pictured), who is graduating from Lincoln High School and Neveh’s Tichon program. “That’s the elephant in the room for me. I appreciate all that’s being done, don’t get me wrong, but I think maybe we all need to frame this as not a replacement or a reparation of our senior year, but a way to make the most of the current situation.”
“In my conversations with seniors, their biggest concern is finding a job in this economic climate,” says PDX Hillel Executive Director Hannah Sherman. 
That is exactly what is on the mind of Portland State University senior Cole Keister, who is graduating with a degree in graphic design. 
“The pandemic has changed my plans for next year by eliminating my options for internships after school,” says Cole. “There’s a new level of uncertainty, so I’m exploring new options with a different mindset now.”
PSU’s virtual commencement, at which Sarah Rohr has been asked to deliver a commencement address, will be online at 11 am, June 14, at
On June 3, the graduates of The Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies at PSU will have their own end-of-year ceremony on Zoom. Coverage from that ceremony is scheduled for the June 10 issue of The Jewish Review.
“Judaic Studies graduates are facing the same challenges as their peers in other departments at PSU and at graduating classes across the country: in addition to trying to finish out an academic term that was shifted quickly to remote instruction – a delivery mode that has been far from ideal for many students – they are also entering a job market unlike any other we have seen in many decades,” says Judaic Studies Academic Director Natan M. Meir. “We are so proud of their achievements and are certain that they will overcome the challenges of this moment and do great things.”   
But the social loss is also on the minds of graduates.
“What I’m missing most from an online final term is not being able to connect with the other students who I have been in my program with for the past four years,” says Cole. “It felt like this was our one last term to support and celebrate the work that we all have done, so it has been a disappointment. I feel the same for my student group on campus (CHAI-Cultural and Historical Association for Israel); we had so many exciting events planned, and to have them all cancelled was disappointing.”
The social component is a big missing piece for high school graduates, too.
“Graduation and all that came with it was supposed to be that sappy, end of a teen movie type moment,” says Zachary. “Without it, my high school experience seems open-ended with all that could have been. … I regret not having that picture perfect final moment.”
Beth Hirschfield says her twins, Elisha and Ada, who are graduating from Lincoln High School, also miss the graduation parties – performing at them that is. 
“Our band ‘New Moon’ is looking forward to playing our original music again for small celebrations, hopefully later in the summer, write the twins on a post requesting donations for their participation in the 2020 Northwest Pilot Project Walkathon. This year’s Walkathon was virtual. Donations are being accepted to help NWPP assist needy seniors until June 1 at:
The twins have also been active in the P’nai Or Organic Produce Community Project, which harvests and delivers fresh organic produce on a weekly basis during the late spring and summer to needy members and their families and delivers fresh produce to vulnerable members who must avoid public grocery stores and farmers’ markets during the pandemic. 
Elisha will be going to Western Washington University, Honors Program, in Bellingham, Wash., and Ada will be going to Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. 
“G-d willing, they’ll be able to go to college in person this fall,” says Beth.
Zachary has the same hope: “I don’t know yet the full extent to which Covid-19 will change my plans for next year. Occidental College, the school that I am attending, hasn’t released anything specific about the coming school year. I hope that not too much changes, but I realize that life will be different.”
Neveh Shalom’s Tichon program hosted a virtual graduation for Zachary and four other seniors – Rael Wendrow, Ethan Newman, Orly Meyer and Ryan Alberts.
The Tichon virtual graduation on May 20 was themed “Showing Up for Each Other.” “These teens are the ones who choose each week to show up for each other, to continue learning and being part of this community,” says Neveh Shalom Education Director Mel Berwin. “And we also want to honor the ways our community is ‘showing up’ for our teens, especially this year, to allow them to celebrate their graduation, including the 12th-grade senior speeches, which are truly a highlight.”
Graduation at Portland Jewish Academy will be virtual, too, on June 10. This year 21 eighth-graders will graduate from the middle school.
"We are excited to celebrate our PJA class of 2020,” says Principal Merrill Hendin. "This is an extraordinary group of kids who have brought much joy to our school in their years at PJA.  We are celebrating them in a number of ways. Each student received a lawn sign to share their pride in being a 2020 PJA grad. We will also have a car parade to cheer them on in person (maintaining appropriate physical distance) and give them their diplomas,  and a virtual graduation at which we will be treated to their special presentations. Mazal Tov PJA class of 2020. We are PJA proud of all of you.”


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