Valedictorian refuses to speak on Shavuot pre-records message

Move over, Sandy Koufax.

Like the Dodger pitching great who chose to observe Yom Kippur rather than start a World Series game, Vacaville High School valedictorian Carolyn Fine chose Jewish law over a moment of glory.

In observance of Shavuot, Fine declined to deliver the valedictory speech at her graduation ceremony the afternoon of June 9. Instead, a pre-recorded tape of her remarks was set to play over the PA, while Fine sat silently.

Carolyn Fine

“I knew last year that graduation would coincide with Shavuot,” said Fine, 18, a week before the ceremony, “but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago I knew we had to straighten this out.”

During the two-day holiday, Torah-observant Jews to refrain from work, which meant she could not use a microphone.

A top-ranked honors student bound for Yeshiva University in New York next fall, Fine says teachers and administrators helped her figure out how to fulfill the role of valedictorian without violating Jewish law.

“I went to my English teacher and explained to him there’s a problem,” she said. “He called the assistant principal. They were all very supportive and intent on making this work. No one made me try to compromise my religious beliefs.”

The Fines’ rabbi, Chaim Zaklos, has known the family since opening Chabad of Solano County two years ago. He said they were one of the first families to welcome him to Vacaville,

and that Carolyn immediately impressed him with her “maturity, personality and dedication to the Torah way of life.”

Once Fine was selected valedictorian, she pondered her options with the rabbi. First they considered having her give the speech after sundown, when the holiday officially ends. When that proved impractical, they came up with the idea of pre-recording it.

In her speech, Fine explained why she had to record her remarks, and went on to describe her two worlds — the secular world of her school and her religiously observant home life.

When Fine was younger, her family attended a Reform synagogue, later shifting to a Conservative congregation and then Chabad of the Tri-Valley in Pleasanton. They studied at Chabad under Rabbi Raleigh Resnick before moving to Vacaville.

“Judaism is a very important part of my life,” Fine said, “and as I learned and studied more, it became more real to me. I felt a deeper connection with it. I’ve come to realize it’s something I cannot live without.”

Zaklos added that Fine’s action — which he calls an act of “Kiddush HaShem,” or sanctifying God’s name — has inspired others.

“What a great opportunity she had, besides being valedictorian, standing up for her beliefs and faith,“ he said. “This will strengthen the pride of the Jewish people in the area. We’re very impressed.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.