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2023 Graduation Speakers Offer Advice, Idealism and Thanks

Katz School graduates were the stars of the seventh commencement exercises on May 15. photos by Adena Stevens

The Katz School of Science and Health graduated its first class of Occupational Therapy Doctorate students and conferred 117 degrees at its seventh commencement on May 15.

Dean Paul Russo told the graduates that they are values-driven leaders who stand for truth reflected in their scholarship and practice; champions of a life built on humane values; and compassionate practitioners.

“Each of you brings a unique sense of purpose to the Katz School,” he said. “You are people of integrity who when moving science to practice will never sacrifice the invaluable in pursuit of the valuable.”

During the ceremony, a graduating student from each of the programs was recognized with an award for academic excellence. They are: Abigail Berkowitz (Digital Marketing and Media); Alexa Bliss (Speech-Language Pathology); Seth Bodek (Physics); Harlee Feldman (Occupational Therapy Doctorate); Marwan, Kanaan, (Data Analytics and Visualization); Xingyu Liu (Ph.D., Mathematical Sciences); Brian Livian (M.A., Mathematics); Alejandro Parra (Artificial Intelligence); Wei Pei Hsuan (Biotechnology Management and Entrepreneurship); and Mukilan Narayanamoorthy (Cybersecurity).

Mindy Garfinkel, interim director of the Occupational Therapy Doctorate, praised the program’s first cohort for excelling in its rich and rigorous academic and clinical education that has prepared them to become intellectual leaders in the field.

“The students graduating today embody the ideals and values of YU scholar-practitioners,” she said. “They are volunteer leaders, having helped those in need in their communities, and have completed rich and meaningful capstone projects, with several of them presented at the Katz School research symposium.”

In her student address, Julie Gurgova, a graduate of the Occupational Therapy Doctorate, thanked her husband, Alex, extended family and classmates for their support and encouragement and then quoted the late Apple founder Steve Jobs who once said: “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

“I urge you to embrace every opportunity and every challenge,” she said, “to continue to think outside of the box, to work harder and smarter, to stay inspired, and to always find the motivation and the passion to find and do work that you are not only proud of, but love. That love will carry through to every part of you, it will be translated into your work, into your daily lives and into the impact you have in the world.”

In his faculty address, Rafael Reyes, director of graduate student life and community engagement, shared that he was once told that he would never amount to anything. “What brought me success was my desire to be an agent of change,” he said. “Despite what people said, I knew I wanted to be someone who made a difference in the world around me.”

Reyes said that for graduates to make the quest for change sustainable and infectious in others requires that they embrace the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi: “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

“Passion and hard work, although good and valuable in and of themselves, are not meant only for your own success,” said Reyes. “Your calling, your skills and talents are milestones for you to be proud of but to truly find yourself, to be a true agent of change, requires that you use those gifts in service to others.”

Humayra Kauser, a graduate of the M.S. in Data Analytics and Visualization and president of the Katz School’s Alumni Association, told graduates to avoid the pitfall of measuring their own success by the achievements of others, and exhorted them to take advantage of the networking possibilities offered by the Alumni Association.

“We all have different timing and different paths in our journeys to success,” she said. “As Katz School alumni, we are here for each other.”

Before the degrees were conferred, President Ari Berman told the graduates that as a freshman at Yeshiva University, he drew inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, an archetypal tale of a young man who purchases eternal youth at the expense of his soul.

"The lesson of the novel is that when we're preparing ourselves for the future, we need to focus on who we are, our character and our core values," he said. "The Bible tells us, the Hebrew Testament teaches us, the last words that Moses said to the people of Israel—that they have a choice between life and death, between blessing and curse."

President Berman advised the graduates that in contemplating their future, their choices will be informed by their character. “This novel is a cautionary tale for the moment where we stand in society,” he said. “So often, we go through life following blindly where progress and science take us, and we end up not being choosers. It’s who you are that will enable you to be choosers. Choose wisely—not just to be skilled in the latest technology and areas of innovation; learn how to apply them for the betterment of our community and our entire society.”