Why I Won’t Let the Lows Define My College Experience:
Reflections from Hillel International Student Cabinet Co-Chair



May 15, 2024

I’m not going to lie – this is not the way I imagined graduating college. I always pictured graduation season as being freeing and exciting, a celebratory close to an incredible four years. But across the country, the last few weeks have brought protests and unrest that have made us anxious and uncertain once again.

It’s almost fitting for the class of 2024 to end this way. We arrived on campuses in the depths of the pandemic, feeling isolated and frustrated by our circumstances. Today, too, we are frustrated and feeling isolated from many of our peers. When our campuses are in turmoil due to protests and encampments, students are more divided than ever, and antisemitism is rising among our classmates and professors, it’s easy to feel alone. Jewish students have been harassed and intimidated, and even our safety isn’t guaranteed. We deserve better.

At the same time, as I reflect upon my college career, I refuse to let the last few weeks define my entire experience. I don’t want to leave campus with the memories of violence, antisemitism, and fear. I’d much rather remind myself of the good times and opportunities I’ve been afforded as a Jewish student: the incredible friendships I’ve made, the spirited Shabbat dinners, the places I’ve traveled, and the chance to become my best self.

When I think about my college experience, I want to remember how much I’ve grown. Thanks to the leadership opportunities I’ve been afforded through Hillel, I’ve overcome my fear of public speaking. I’ve traveled to five new cities, eight new airports, and visited the White House. I’ve dreamed bigger, learned more, gotten a job(!), and found more joy in my Jewish life than ever before. How can I possibly let anything get in the way of celebrating those moments? 

One of my favorite parts of being involved in Hillel has been celebrating the organization’s centennial this year. I had the opportunity to do research at Brandeis about Hillel’s history and have been so moved by the amazing people who made a difference during its first 100 years. It’s incredible to see how far we’ve come as a movement since Rabbi Frankel first gathered a group of Jewish students at a barbershop in Champaign, Illinois. 

Most of all, though, I’ve been inspired by the resilience and leadership of Jewish students. In every decade, we can find examples of students teaching courses on Jewish topics, rallying around important causes, leading services, and setting up Shabbat tables. We have always been stronger than the circumstances that challenge us, and we have always found moments of Jewish joy. 

As I graduate, I want to continue that legacy. In all my research, what stood out weren’t the hard times, they were the high points: the student gatherings, the innovative programs, and the meaningful connections made between students. I want to think about the new experiences, the relationships I’ve built, and the ways my peers have inspired me to become my best self. If being a part of Hillel has taught me anything, it’s that my Jewish story is mine to tell. These are my memories, and nothing can take them away.

If you’re a fellow member of the class of 2024, mazel tov! I know it hasn’t been easy, but I am so proud to be graduating with you all. To you and to every current student, I hope you don’t let the lows define your Jewish college experience. Hold your favorite memories close, and create as many positive memories as you can: college doesn’t last forever, and for every rainy day, there are twice as many with sunshine.

And to incoming college students, take advantage of every opportunity. Go to Shabbat dinner, take on a leadership position, and embrace each chance to celebrate being Jewish. Seek out moments of Jewish joy, and know that when times are hard, Hillel has your back. I know the future feels uncertain, but take it from someone who’s been through it: Jewish students are strong, we are resilient, and whether we are graduating now or just starting our journeys, we will always be proud to be Jewish. 

Samantha Brody is a graduating senior at Brandeis University and co-chair of the Hillel International Student Cabinet.