My Non-College Graduation

My Non-College Graduation

23 years ago this month I sat in the audience among the proud family members of my graduating classmates, as the dean of Bowdoin College pronounced “Jenny Ann Freedman, graduating in absentia.”

I was very new to Orthodox Judaism, but even after a 10-week stint at Neve Yerushalayim the summer before, I knew that walking across that stage with a diploma in my hand was a no-no.

I am thinking of that long-ago Saturday morning today on account of a beautiful article written by my dear friend and learning partner (for 9 years and counting!) Sara Debbie, in which she recalls the challenge of turning down a Penn classmate’s invitation to a Friday night party. And she describes that feeling of standing up for Shabbat, and standing alone.

Which made me think of my own graduation in absentia. Did I, like Sara Debbie, feel like I was standing alone?

Yes. Definitely yes.

But also, no.

My parents, G-d bless them, phenomenally enough made the 10 hour drive to Maine to sit by the side of their flipped out daughter at her non-graduation.

And also, Hashem prepared another little surprise for me. For all of the years I spent at Bowdoin, I never saw another Orthodox Jew. But there, sitting right behind me at my graduation, was an Orthodox Jew in full-Chassidic regalia. My classmate’s uncle, who, apparently, had flipped out, just like me.

And Hashem, it turned out, had another surprise in store for me…

4 months after my non-graduation, on the Friday night of Parshat Lech Lecha, I sat at the Shabbat table of my Pardes classmate, Michael, and his roommates.

Today, 22 years after that Shabbat meal on Yoel Solomon Street, Michael is a Conservative rabbi in Atlanta.
Roommate David is a Talmud professor in Brooklyn.
And roommate Joshua is my husband.

Maybe, just maybe, Hashem saw me stand alone for Shabbat at my non-graduation, and decided that I wouldn’t have to stand alone on Shabbat ever again.


  1. I don’t really understand this story. Your graduation was on Shabbat? So you sat in the audience but didn’t go up on stage?

    • JewishMom


      • Oh! I thought I was understanding it wrong because it’s so odd to think of a graduation on a Saturday, I’ve never heard of that!

  2. I also had a non graduation from grad school on Shabbat. It was too far from where I lived since graduation was on a different campus. At the Chabad near where I lived they had a nice kiddish. None of my classmates were there but it was a great gift!

  3. I still don’t get it. So why go at all? what are the halachic issues regarding the stage that don’t apply to simply being there?
    Anyway it was a long time ago, but at least two people there didn’t flip: your parents!!!

    • JewishMom

      I didn’t ask a rav, but I decided (based on my limited understanding at the time) that i couldn’t carry the diploma across the stage in a place without an eruv.

      • Aha! Amazing that you felt so strongly connected to the halachot of shabbat AND to your graduation at the same time. When I was at the beginning of “flipping out”, I threw the baby out with the bathwater…. now I think I’m holding the baby and throwing out too much water! One of these days I’ll get it right.

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