With the cancellation of graduation ceremonies this year, our Cap & Gown issue takes on added significance.

Unfortunately, this year because of COVID-19, our high school and college students will experience a graduation without formal, in-person ceremonies. As yet, we just can’t risk gathering in large numbers to see our students get their diplomas, hear the keynote speeches and see the new graduates toss their mortarboards into the air. Of course, there will be innovative virtual celebrations and it should be very interesting to see how these develop.

You can, however, always count on the JN’s annual “Cap & Gown” issue to make it a celebration. This has been a tradition in the Detroit Jewish Community since the 1980s.

We also searched for information on graduations of the past in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Detroit Jewish History. The term “high school graduations” was cited more than 1,500 times. One can also search for “Cap & Gown,” “Graduation,” “Valedictorian, or other related search words.

While extensive coverage of high school graduations did not occur until the 1960s, there are some interesting stories from earlier years in the Archive. The earliest mention of a graduation was in the Aug. 25, 1916, issue of the Jewish Chronicle. This article is actually a wedding announcement for Lillian Goodman, who had just married Emery Monash, but it cites Goodman as the youngest high school graduate in Detroit in 1911.

In 1917, there was a story about Ivor Kahn graduating from Highland Park High School. Kahn was that school’s first Jewish valedictorian — and quite the athlete as well as an accomplished scholar.

In general, announcements of high school graduations in the early years of the Chronicle and JN are usually brief items about graduating classes in weekly news listings such as “Congregational Activities” or “Society News.” In the June 18, 197,1 issue of the JN, there is a small section titled “Youth on the Move,” which features the names of four high students who graduated with distinction.

The current Cap & Gown issue began in the 1980s as a section highlighting “Smart Kids,” most of whom had their names submitted by their guidance counselors or principals. The issue evolved to include all students with a 3.5 or better grade average. Although Cap & Gown issues were initially devoted to graduating high school students, they soon included notes from families that congratulated their college graduates, as well as congratulatory advertisements from various colleges.

After a few years, publisher Arthur Horwitz decided that the Cap & Gown issue should be open to any and all Jewish high school students from the region. This made the special issue what it is today — a community-wide high school graduation “yearbook” that celebrates all of our graduates.

With the cancellation of graduation ceremonies this year, our Cap & Gown issue takes on added significance. We hope Cap & Gown 2020 is a feel-good moment for our entire community. Congratulations to all our graduates! Mazel Tov!

Special note:
Yael Eichhorn, the 2020 Detroit Jewish News Foundation Summer Intern, assisted with research for this Looking Back. Yael is in her second year at Michigan State, majoring in religious studies with a minor in Jewish studies.

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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