Wednesday, June 13, 2012

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of participating as a graduate in Touro College's Commencement Exercises, where I received my BA in Psychology, cum laude. All cynical comments about Touro's quality aside, I allowed myself a tinge of pride and more importantly, a sense of accomplishment that my hard work (not to mention several nights a week's absence from my family) paid off in a step towards making the proper hishtadlut in providing sustenance for my family and qualified help for my community. The truth is, I don't need the recognition from others but to have something tangible that validates that hard work does feel good.

The ceremony itself was very interesting, as well as ironic on many levels. Much of the decorated faculty at Touro graced the stage in all their academic glory, with colorful hoods and ostentatious robes that made them look more like the faculty of Hogwarts than of a modern, liberal arts institution. Moreover, the pomp and circumstance of the actual ceremonies had a contrived, inorganic quality to it, one of the last vestiges of an ages old tradition in academia. It's interesting to see this; we typically associate higher education with liberal agendas and attempts to dismantle tradition and throw off the yoke of earlier generations, yet they cling so tenaciously to these few hours of reveling in their scholastic achievements, with forced rituals that convey their reverence to the acquisition of knowledge.

This is compounded by the dichotomy of an institution that tries to distinguish itself as a place that remains faithful to both the principles of Torah Judaism as well as secular scholarship. To hear speeches about Torah values from people dressed in the regalia of what is essentially a manifestation of Greek culture is a relatively unique experience for this writer.

This irony extended to the student body, as well: one of the female valedictorians gave a lengthy address about different personalities who had profound impact on Jewry in the past century, mentioning Chiune Sugihara and Rav Aharon Kotler in the same sentence, unwittingly equating their importance in the survival of Jewry. One wonders what Rav Kotler (who was vehemently opposed to secular education) would have thought about his likeness being used as a positive contributor to the advancement of Jewish continuity as it relates to the secular world, in the halls of academia...


Micha Berger said...

Now that you have a psych degree, I expected you to be able to tell us why "hav[ing] something tangible that validates that hard work" actually "does feel good."

Mazal toiv!

Neil Harris said...