A popular Jewish student at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.—known for proudly wearing his kippah around campus—delivered the commencement speech on Sunday afternoon imparting to some 25,000 fellow graduates, faculty, family and friends the importance of utilizing each moment to its fullest.
Gabriel Felder, of Stamford, Conn., was selected for the prestigious honor of representing his graduating class at commencement, marking the second year in a row that a Jewish student leader has done so. Felder reflected on words his departed father, Louis Felder, told him before he went off to college, and cited timeless words of Torah as providing a life path.
Representing the graduating class of 2014 before the throng gathered outdoors at the National Mall, Felder—a political communication major in the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences’ School of Media and Public Affairs—emphasized that at every stage of life, especially during these formative years, a person must “live in the moment, and make the most of each and every opportunity.”
Felder served as president of GW’s Jewish Student Association, held multiple positions at GW Hillel and served on the board of GW’s Chabad Freshmen Jewish Club. He was also a regular at the campus Chabad run by Rabbi Yudi and Rivky Steiner, with whom he worked to improve Jewish life for students. Friends describe him as an inspiring person who created bridges between the Jewish community and the rest of the university, and represented the Jewish people well throughout his four years there.
Felder began his address recalling a conversation he and his father had over ice-cream after returning from freshman orientation. After asking his son whether he was excited to be going to GW—and getting a resoundingly positive reply back—Louis Felder replied: “Good! Just don’t waste it!”
“He passed away just a little over a month after that humid June night,” Felder told the audience, without sharing the fact that his father was killed, along with seven fellow workers, in a murderous rampage at his workplace, breaking the hearts of millions who sat riveted to their television screens.
Displaying some of the tenacity and optimism that carried him through his subsequent years in college, Felder stated that as a newly minted “Colonial,” as GW students are called, “it was in my blood” not to waste any G‑d-given time or opportunities.
Felder explained that he and his fellow students learned well the teaching of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, that “in each journey of our lives we must fully be where we are. We may only be passing through on our way to somewhere else seemingly more important. Nevertheless, there is purpose in where we are right now.”
“I can look today at this crowd and see proud parents beaming at the sight of their children in their caps and gowns,” Felder continued. “And I can look in my mother and my sisters’ faces and I can say wholeheartedly to my father that [I made] the most of my four years.”
The proud graduate went further to proclaim on behalf of all his fellow students “that none of us have wasted the amazing opportunity that it was to be given an education at The George Washington University.”
Grateful for Support
Felder also reminded his classmates that “commencement is a moment to take a step back and really think about all of the people who helped you get to this point,” urging them to “think back and be grateful for every professor who taught you to stand up and be heard; to every mentor that pushed you to lead and to not follow; and to every advisor you had, for his or her endless help in ensuring your education was the best it could be.”