Two heartwarming graduation stories happened this week in Upstate NY, both reported in the news. Each one is a beautiful story, but they have opposite, complimentary messages.

DON GREENBERG. The first story is from Binghamton. It got some national attention, and many people saw it on Facebook. See it here on

Donny Greenberg is graduating this weekend from Binghamton University – triple majoring in computer science, math and finance. He was scheduled to be the student speaker at this year’s Commencement Ceremonies, but then realized it was on Shabbos! What to do as an Orthodox observant Jew? After consultation with his High School Rabbi back home, he told the University that this would be a challenge because of his religious observance. They respected that and accommodated him, by having him pre-record his message which will be played on giant screens at the graduation. Kol HaKavod to this courageous & principled student and to the very accommodating Binghamton University! Donny’s Chabad Rabbi on campus, Rabbi Aaron Slonim, called this “A Sandy Koufax Moment” recalling the incredible Kiddush Hashem (the Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke about it at that time) when star pitcher Sandy Koufax wouldn’t play an important World Series baseball game that fell on Yom-Kippur!

KEN KROSS. The second story is from across the Hudson River in Rensselaer NY. Brittany Horn of the “Times-Union” wrote this up beautifully for the paper:

A native of Rensselaer, Ken Kross was a local teen in WWII, who dropped out of high school to join the Navy. He served this country, then came back home and got a job at the railroad, got married, and raised a family. Fast forward a bunch of decades, he’s now in his late 80’s, still living in the same village, but he has prostate cancer. His Hospice care staff heard his life story and realized that he has that last wish to get a high school diploma. The hospice chaplain discussed this with local school officials and it was arranged for him to graduate (no further classes necessary) with the Class of 2015 this June. Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated so they moved up his graduation ceremony to last week. The Times-Union has this glowing photo of him beaming dressed in cap and gown. They asked Ken how he’d like to celebrate. First he joked about “Black Velvet” (a whiskey) but then he said, “No, just being with my family is enough. They’re everything.” (which is such an incredibly powerful and meaningful message). One week later he passed away.

How are these stories different?

Don was willing to walk away from the pomp and circumstance and high honors at the graduation ceremony because of substance, the principles and values that were important to him. Donny’s story is about substance over circumstance.

Ken didn’t practically need this piece of paper. It wasn’t going to help him get a job in his dying days. But he yearned for that ceremonial experience, that sense of closure, he needed to fill that gap in his life. He already put in his substance. He already lived a full life, working hard, giving of himself to his country and to his family. Ken’s story is about cherishing the ritual.

Life needs both. Judaism needs both. The combination is what make Mitzvot (good deeds) tick.