Every spring the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies honors a graduate by presenting them with the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award. Faculty nominate students who have made stand out academic achievements and have achieved a grade point average of at least 3.8 in Judaic Studies courses.
This year’s recipient is Will Hearn. Hearn, from Clio, Michigan, majored in Judaic Studies, Middle East Studies and minored in Religion. Hearn became a Judaic Studies major after taking Professor Rebecca Wollenberg’s “Problems with the Bible” class. “I’ve always had a passion to learn more about the Bible and the historical context in which it was written,” explained Hearn. “I’ve had several Judaic Studies professors encourage me to declare the major as it would open up worlds of opportunities for me, including receiving fellowships to study abroad, learning biblical languages, and immersing myself in the culture and history of the Jewish people.”
Hearn impressed several of his teachers with his original thought and commitment to course work. Professor Deborah Dash Moore praised Hearn as a model student: “Always deeply engaged, he wrote a superb paper on ‘Rabbinical Heroes: How Perceptions of Jewish Military Chaplains Shifted from the Civil War to World War II,’ taking off from an article published in the Detroit Jewish News.” Hearn’s paper argued that during the Civil War, Jews saw military chaplains as a means for Jews to progress in comparison to Christians, and during World War I as a way of encouraging religious tolerance. Not until World War II were they seen as war heroes. “This is an original and compelling interpretation drawn from a variety of Jewish newspaper sources,” said Dash Moore.
“He was among the most diligent, bright, and hard-working students I have ever had in my ‘What is Judaism?’ class,” remarked Professor Julian Levinson. “He is a clear, systematic thinker, driven by strong curiosity. He demonstrated the ability to absorb an impressive amount of new ideas.”
Professor Shachar Pinsker, who taught Hearn in two courses on modern Israeli culture and in an intensive study abroad course in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, also praised him as a hard-working and dedicated student. “What I found what most impressive about Will is his uncommon intellectual maturity. He is not afraid to venture into new areas of study and to challenge himself, and he performs extremely well.”
Hearn has accepted a full-tuition scholarship at Yale University’s School of Divinity and will be enrolling in the Master of Divinity program with a Certificate in Educational Leadership and Ministry. “I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without the wisdom of the professors that have taught me or without the guidance from mentors that I befriended,” said Hearn. “The Frankel Center truly served as a home for me during my undergraduate career. I’ve met some of my best friends and discovered my future career plans in the halls of this center.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Frankel Center was unable to honor this year’s recipient at the Judaic Studies graduation reception and instead shared a video of faculty congratulating students and presenting the Judaic Studies class of 2020, including remarks from Will Hearn. The video is available on the Frankel Center’s website (https://lsa.umich.edu/content/michigan-lsa/judaic/en/2020-graduation.html).