Graduation on Shabbat? Students Start Petition to Change Graduation Date

Graduation+on+Shabbat%3F+Students+Start+Petition+to+Change+Graduation+Date

Ayelet Schuster

Slider photo by Libby Archer

St. Louis, Mo.- When the Parkway school district in St. Louis, Mo. announced its 2018 graduation date as Saturday May 19, which, in addition to being on Shabbat, happens to fall on Shavuot,  Jewish students reacted in an uproar.  

Parkway Central High School senior, Hannah Maurer, started a petition in hopes of having the date of graduation changed. Maurer, who identifies as a Reform Jew, spoke out and represented the Jewish community by creating the petition.

“My initial reaction to the graduation date was anger and utter disbelief,” responded Maurer by email. “A school district so driven on inclusivity and diversity failed to include its more observantly Jewish students, simply because the district wanted to ‘save money.’”

The school district decided on that date because they wanted to have all the graduations on one day. May 19 was the only date they would be able to reserve the arena for all four schools’ graduations.

Jewish students from the Parkway school district at a youth group event. Photo by Willow Perlick

“One would hope that they might peruse a Jewish calendar in order to see if there is any conflict, and if there is a significant Muslim community they may do the same,” said Rabbi Weinstein, Head of Jewish Studies at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. “We do, however, change our dates every year, and they can be forgiven for not realizing this piece of Jewish arcana.”

“I believe that school districts, especially those as diverse as Parkway, should indeed take into consideration all of their students. As students, we are not a percentage and we are not a statistic. Simply because a student isn’t of the “majority” does not mean their voices are not valid,” said Maurer.

Rabbi Weinstein explains that “in school districts that have substantial Jewish communities, choosing a date where all can participate would not be too much to ask. On the other hand, a district can’t be all things to all people.”

Many Jewish students, including Maurer, began saying that they would not attend their own graduation unless the date was changed. The students wanted to protest a date that was not accommodating to everyone. Rabbi Weinstein agreed with their motives stating that “one has to choose priorities in life, and religious commitment supersedes other obligations.”

“There was no thought process behind making the petition at all. I truly acted on impulse and on reaction” says Maurer. For her is was not a thought-out ethical prioritization, but instead it was a reaction to injustice in her community.

“Everyone seemed to be supportive of the petition, even the Board of Education. I had almost every person I knew behind me and in result got over 2,000 people to sign my petition ranging from St. Louis, Mo. to Haifa, Israel.”

After the petition received thousands of signatures, the school board decided to change the date of graduation for two of the four Parkway schools. Both Parkway Central and Parkway North graduations were moved to weekdays so their Jewish students would be able to attend.