Binghamton Commencement speaker overcomes challenges of delivering speech on Jewish day of rest


BINGHAMTON, NY -- Don Greenberg was thrilled to be announced as one of this year’s student Commencement speakers for Binghamton University’s Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science. However, when he learned that his Commencement ceremony was on Shabbat, it appeared as if all hope was lost. Growing up as an Orthodox Jew, Shabbat had always been a time for Greenberg to spend with friends and family, while also resting. For many Jews, Shabbat is a time to disregard many of the typical demands of modernity, such as driving, using electronics, writing, cooking and other forms of "work."

Working with his family, Greenberg tried to plan the Commencement so that it would not interfere with the complexities of Shabbat rules. They proposed walking to Commencement instead of driving, but the use of a microphone and lighting to deliver his speech would break the rules of using electronics. Greenberg even consulted his local and trusted rabbi, who studied various texts on the issue and confirmed that the Commencement speech would indeed break the complex Shabbat rules.

Greenberg contacted Binghamton University staff to try and accommodate his special requests. They agreed to arrange for a type of Shabbat-friendly microphone, however there was no way to ensure the lights of the soundboard would not switch on and off with the volume of his voice during the speech.

The University searched for an innovative solution to make Greenberg’s dream possible and successfully found one: Staff realized they could simply record his speech ahead of time, and during the actual Commencement ceremony he could stand proudly at the podium while the video is played.

"I am overjoyed that the school was so willing to work with me to accommodate this critical part of my life and upbringing, and ensure that I could still deliver a meaningful message to the graduating class of 2015," Greenberg said.

Greenberg is graduating with a triple major in computer science, math and management. He will begin his career in Manhattan in July, working for New Street in telecommunications equity research. Greenberg is also the outgoing vice president for academic affairs for the Student Association, co-founder of the Student Culinary Council, member of the a capella group the Binghamtonics and former president of the Newing College Council. He also participated in JUMP Nation (Juvenile Urban Multicultural Program), which works to decrease high school dropout rates and increase enrollment in higher education.

Last Updated: 9/17/13