USC Hillel Hosts Commencement Ceremony to Honor Graduates



May 13, 2024

In the wake of campus protests, arrests, and rising tensions, a number of colleges and universities have chosen to cancel their main commencement ceremonies due to security concerns. This is particularly heartbreaking news for the class of 2024, many of whom missed out on a high school graduation ceremony in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At  the University of Southern California, administrators made the decision to cancel the school’s “main stage” commencement at the end of April, citing safety reasons amid  campus protest encampments. USC Hillel wanted to ensure graduating students would still feel  seen, special, and recognized for their hard work — especially during such a challenging year. In partnership with Chabad at USC, they decided to host a Jewish Communal Commencement, open to all Jewish students at the university. 

On Friday, May 10, Jewish students and their loved ones gathered at USC Hillel to celebrate their achievements and their resilience. 

“We will never allow hostility toward our community, or even our work to address it, to become our defining quality,” said Dave Cohn, executive director of USC Hillel, in his remarks to the community. “We are fueled by the animating spirit of eternal divine covenant that makes us Am Yisrael.”

The invocation for the ceremony was led by Ariana Goldstein, a USC Hillel student leader, and included the shehecheyanu, the blessing for reaching a special moment or milestone. 

“My first shehecheyanu moment at USC was at FreshFest, Hillel’s orientation program for incoming Jewish first-years, and it was on Zoom,” she shared, recalling a campus tour conducted through Google Maps and student bonding done through breakout rooms. 

“Today may mark the last shehecheyanu moment of our time at USC, but it’s just the beginning of our journeys,” she added.

In addition to a presentation of certificates and congratulations from the faculty, the ceremony included an address from USC Dean of Religious Life Dr. Varun Soni, and a celebration of graduates led by Rabbi Dov Wagner of Chabad at USC. There was also a special virtual message from actress and Hillel alumna Mayim Bialik. 

“What a four years you have had,” she said, addressing the students in a prerecorded video. “Starting your adult lives amidst all of the COVID madness, we were worried about you. And you started college amid testing and regulations and fear and anxiety. But you made it through.”

“What you’ve seen in the past four years is possibly a new version of yourselves as Jews emerging as you go out from USC into whatever life you choose and whatever life chooses you,” she continued. “Your identity as Jews is an identity of integrity and of loyalty and devotion and gimelut hasadim, acts of kindness. And it is still and always will be the time to be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

The student presidents of both Hillel and Chabad also spoke at the ceremony, reflecting on their time at USC and sharing their wishes for their fellow graduates. 

“Everyone has their own unique story to be told,” said Maya Grinstein, president of USC Hillel. “Just think about all the amazing things we have accomplished together.”

The class of 2024 has accomplished so much, and in a season of turmoil and rising antisemitism on campus, USC Hillel showed up to make sure they got the recognition they deserved. 

At the end of the day, perhaps Bialik said it best: Justice, justice shall you pursue until it flows like a mighty stream. That is our legacy, and it is your legacy as Jewish Trojans.

Congratulations to the Jewish students at USC — and to the entire class of 2024.