They might come up with a new word for Don Greenberg’s commencement speech at Binghamton University in Upstate New York. Something like ... “valedictation.”

The graduating college senior was nominated to be this year’s commencement speaker for the school’s Watson School of Engineering on May 16. However, when the 22-year-old learned that the ceremony was on Saturday—the Jewish Sabbath—it appeared that it would not be possible. The issue surrounded the use of a microphone.

After consulting with a number of rabbis, Greenberg told administrators at the New York state campus that according to Jewish law, he could not use the microphone at the ceremony.

“I’m reminded of when Sandy Koufax refused to pitch during the first game of the 1965 World Series, which coincided with Yom Kippur eve,” says Rabbi Aaron Slonim, executive director of the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University, a Jewish campus organization where Greenberg is an active member. “His courage gave many Jews the strength to be unabashed of their Judaism.”

”I was considering not speaking,” acknowledges Greenberg, who notes that during his four years there, he did no schoolwork on Shabbat. He would work right up until Friday night and then stop for the weekly holiday. “I wasn’t sure what the protocol was or what would be right for my graduating class. I went out on a limb, and the school made it work.”

Binghamton University graduating senior Don Greenberg, 22
Binghamton University graduating senior Don Greenberg, 22

With the help of university administrators, Greenberg has found a way to deliver the speech—a rather innovative way at that. It was taped on Wednesday at a podium in front of a blue background as he stood in full graduation regalia.

“So ... this is awkward,” began Greenberg, in the introduction to his talk. “I know this is sort of an interesting arrangement, but I want to first and foremost express my tremendous gratitude to the school for making it happen.

“The problem is that Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, a day that as a central part of my Orthodox upbringing is free of all electronics, like, say, a microphone, as well as writing, driving, cooking and lots of other things,” he explains. “It’s a time to relax with family and friends, and forget about the week. And it’s a big part of my life.

“My family walked here this morning, and we will walk to Chabad at noon for the traditional Shabbat lunch.”

Indeed, Chabad has been an important part of his college life. He was involved there from the get-go, attending weekly Friday-night Shabbat dinners, holiday programs and other events. “I met most of my friends through Chabad at Binghamton. It’s just one of a kind here, just terrific! The amount of programming and vibrancy of the Jewish community here is on a different level than other places.

”And the school itself,” he continues, “is very cognizant and accommodating to different groups.”

‘Great Pride and Strength’

This Saturday, when some 2,500 students and their families gather on campus for the engineering ceremony, they will watch Greenberg’s pre-recorded commencement speech on jumbo screens on either side of the stage.

“Don’s unwavering commitment to Shabbat and to Judaism is a source of great pride and strength to Jewish students here at Binghamton University, and in particular, to Jewish college students around the world,” says Slonim. “I also want to express my gratitude to everyone at Binghamton University who did not make Don choose between his religious conviction and this remarkable opportunity. This incident only highlights this outstanding truth about our campus culture and its values.”

Greenberg is graduating with a triple degree in computer science, math and finance. The native of Teaneck, N.J.—who has three siblings also heavily involved in Jewish life, including a younger brother now studying in Israel—plans to begin his career this summer in New York City, working in telecommunications equity research.

In fact, his status as a former collegian is now practically official. He took his last final today, on the subject of architecture, finishing around noon.

Greenberg's commencement speech was taped on Wednesday at a podium as he stood in full graduation regalia. (Photo: Jonathan Cohen/Binghamton University/RNS)
Greenberg's commencement speech was taped on Wednesday at a podium as he stood in full graduation regalia. (Photo: Jonathan Cohen/Binghamton University/RNS)