Matt Vogel

A note of appreciation for the UVM Class of 2024

Graduates of UVM, Class of 2024
Photo by Theia Yam Frank
With permission from the photographer, Theia Yam Frank, @theiayf_photos
Dear Class of 2024,
Your first year on campus began with so much promise and hope and light. I can hardly remember that first fall semester in 2020 when everything was normal before the new normal we are in now. We had just opened this new facility and were celebrating with Shabbats and coffee meetings and hikes and kayak trips. We were meeting and greeting and listening to you all year about who you were and what you wanted to be…and then it all stopped.
We went home.
We had to figure out what education looked like from Teams. We had to figure out what Hillel was when students weren’t around. We lost family and friends. We had to wash our hands raw constantly. We adapted, we made sourdough bread, we knitted, we gamed, we all did something, just to get through the days.
Our Jewish tradition teaches us the value of zachor, to remember. A few things I’ll remember about these years with you…I remember that we were one of the few campuses in the country that was fully in-person through the worst of the pandemic. I remember that we were one of the few Hillels in the country that stayed fully in-person with you.
Do you remember getting handed a Shabbat meal kit, pre-packaged, gloved, and at a distance? Do you remember Zoom University Hillel? Do you remember the High Holidays when only two people could be near our sacred Torah? Do you remember RSVPing before you could enter the Hillel and the kitchen was completely off-limits? Do you remember that the only friends you could make were those on your floor? Do you remember all the classes with countless cameras off, teaching and learning in a void of authentic connection? Do you remember eating pickles that were grown by our student farmers? Do you remember JLF at a distance in the Davis Center? Do you remember that first joyous moment we could gather again, at Passover in the Davis Center, every reservable room filled with the voices of hundreds ringing out saying Dayenu and Chad Gadya and Corey playing guitar all the while?
Don’t forget these moments and how you rose to those challenges. They are an indelible part of who you are.
Your resilience and strength in the face of so much adversity is an inspiration. Tap into that source as you begin to make your way in the world outside of the University of Vermont.
You will forever be the most resilient class of graduates this institution has seen, carry that strength with you.
Your time at UVM is coming to an end for this particular chapter and it ended hard. The war in Israel and Gaza made its impact here in Burlington; many were deeply hurt by the pain and suffering half a world away and in our communities. Through all the challenges UVM students were able to somehow and someway adapt and find support in each other to get through these days. I’m so proud of how you all have found your voice and your values over these past four years on campus.
Class of 2024, you are my teachers.
You have spoken loudly and proudly about your Jewish values. Your Jewish values have called you to speak out against injustice and oppression and call for peaceful coexistence. Your voices helped me listen and learn when I misstepped and supported us getting our Hillel on the right track; the track of truly supporting every student no matter their beliefs or myriad connections with Judaism. I offer my sincere appreciation to the students who spent hours in conversation with me to help me learn from you and understand more about your perspectives on the world. I’m grateful for you.
This Hillel is better because of you.
You will always have a home here in Burlington, Vermont, and a home here at the Burack Hillel. Thank you for the blessings of letting our Hillel staff spend time with you on your Jewish journey. We hope that the quest and search for meaning in a life well-lived includes some aspect of Jewish connection that you found in your time at UVM. We hope you find inspiration and joy and community as you develop your own Jewish lives.
We will always be here so future generations of students can find the support and comfort and connection that Jewish communities offer. Thank you for gracing us with your presence and your laughter and your Jewish joy.
We appreciate you, Class of 2024. We hope you thrive in the world and stay connected to your UVM family as you continue your Jewish journey. May you travel with the blessings of the wayfarer’s prayer.
“May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace”
Mazel tov and congratulations seniors,
Matt Vogel, Executive Director – Hillel at the University of Vermont
About the Author
Matt Vogel is the Executive Director of Hillel at the University of Vermont and has spent his career supporting Jewish students on campus.
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