Goodbye, High School; Hello, Life

Commencement speakers reflect on the end of their high school years.  

Mazal tov to the Class of 2016. Pictured are the graduates of Margolin Hebrew Academy/Feinstone Yeshiva of the South in Memphis. Rabbi Uriel Lubetski, upper school principal, is on the left and Sara Plotitsa, administrative assistant, is on the right. Courtesy of MHAFYOS

High school graduation is a significant milestone in a teen’s life. For many young people, the excitement comes from transitioning to the next stage of their lives. They’re about to embark on an exploration of who they are and who they want to become as adults and professionals. The challenges, fears, insights and collective wisdom of members of the Class of 2016 are reflected in the words of their commencement speakers. We have four excerpted and edited remarks from commencement addresses delivered at day schools in California, New Jersey and Tennessee. In spite of their geographic differences, the speakers share common themes such as the importance of gratitude and the value of family and embracing fears.

Fresh Ink for Teens wishes mazal tov to all of our high school graduates. May you go from strength to strength, and continue to write about it along the way.

Shoshana BravermanShoshana Braverman is a graduate of Margolin Hebrew Academy/Feinstone Yeshiva of the South in Memphis. She will be a student at Darchei Binah in Jerusalem followed by the honors program at Stern College for Women in Manhattan.

Gratitude is not something that comes easy. We often forget all of those around us who teach us, nurture us, and care for us, allowing us to achieve our goals and reach success. We often forget that our parents were the ones who brought us up to become the people we are today. We often forget that our teachers were the ones who taught us how to take the world head on, armed with critical thinking skills and the ability to write four essays in one week. We often forget that our friends were the ones who were there when we failed, to comfort us and to convince us to keep trying.

To gain a sense of gratitude, we must look into our past. We have to pick apart the events of our childhood and adolescence in order to recognize who the central figures were who allowed us to grow. Only then will we be able to truly have a sense of gratitude for those who helped us.

But how can we show gratitude to the Jews of our past? How can we show gratitude for the people who suffered so that we could live on? I believe the way we show gratitude today is by learning. We have the privilege of attending a Jewish school and learning from Jewish teachers. We refuse to let those who tried to destroy us win by educating ourselves about our past and our culture. We display our gratitude while simultaneously displaying our perseverance. I feel truly grateful to my parents, my teachers and my friends for allowing me to take part in something so incredible. Thanks to them, I can take everything I’ve learned and use it to create a future in which the Jewish people continue to live and thrive, a future in which we continue to display our gratitude for those around us.

Elisheva CohenElisheva Cohen is a graduate of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, N.J. She will be attending Sha’alvim for Women in Jerusalem followed by Stern College for Women in Manhattan.

When I think about leaving a comfort zone and venturing into an unknown future, I think about a true story of a young girl living in early, 20th-century Europe. When she was 5 years old, she and her family began their journey to America, leaving behind a home, friends and the tight-knit community of the shtetl, as pogroms had spread throughout Russia. Three years later, on July 6, 1923, the young girl and her family finally reached the shores of America, the “goldene medina”. Beckoning them to America, in New York harbor, was the magnificent Statue of Liberty. Imagine the emotions that filled the young girl’s heart as she prepared to disembark and take her first steps onto American soil, and the excitement of standing on the streets “paved with gold”.

The young girl in this story was my great-grandmother, Claire Umansky. Earlier this year she passed away at the age of 101. She was a great woman who, despite the challenges and obstacles in her life, took her first steps into America and raised a family, built a business and left an enduring legacy. Today, we recognize our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, the first steps they took and the opportunities they provided for us, as we stand ready to take our next steps.

David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, the leading global Jewish advocacy organization where I interned this May, once said, “…It’s important that we view Jewish history as a relay race in which we do our utmost to sprint as smartly, as swiftly, as intelligently as we can, but also to know in advance that there are people who are waiting at the end of my turn, my lap, who are willing and able to receive the baton and to engage in their own swift, intelligent sprint.”

From day one, Ma’ayanot prepared us to be able to stand at the place where the sidewalk ends, arm outstretched ready to grab the baton and run. To run and experience new opportunities. To run and help others in need. To run and spread Jewish values. To run and make an impact. We have an entire community that Ma’ayanot has created cheering us on and giving us the tools to take the next step in our lives. Class of 2016, it’s our turn to take the baton and run.

Naomi GluckNaomi Gluck is a graduate of Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles. She will be attending Washington University in St. Louis.

There’s no doubt that graduation is a time of celebration. But as much as all of us like to act tough, we must admit that graduating is also scary. Not just scary, but sometimes utterly and completely terrifying. Soon we will all leave behind our comfort zones and move onto an unknown. And that’s frightening.

This fear of change that we’re all feeling is a sign that we’re growing and developing. If you’re never afraid, that means you’re not moving; you’re stagnant. This is something we face as Jews in America: we strive to find new ways to take old concepts and values that we have lived for and died for for thousands of years and find ways to make them relevant. Stagnancy is something both Jewish and American values discourage; both traditions celebrate growth and self-improvement. We are never supposed to be satisfied with the way things are, and we’re supposed to constantly strive to make things better. In Judaism, this idea manifests itself in the value of tikkun olam, which encourages us to partner with God to “heal the world”.  In America, our history is built upon the notion of improvement, whether it’s by expanding to the West or traveling to the moon.

The way to think about fear is to remember that fear is only one side of the coin, and that growth is the other side. Fear has a negative connotation; many see it as a sign of weakness. But I propose that it’s actually a sign of strength. It serves as a significant reminder that what we are doing is something challenging and new — and that’s what is making us nervous.

Nina MillerNina Miller is a graduate of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, N.J. She will attend Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY) in Israel followed by Stern College for Women.

Expressing gratitude narrows the gap between the giver and taker. It gives us the opportunity to give back to our giver. It is the integration of the ideas of looking back toward matan Torah (giving of the Torah) while moving forward productively and creatively as sources of innovation, that Ma’ayanot has artfully balanced and achieved.

Classic Ma’ayanot is the focus on the talents that every individual has to offer. She is…empowered. Each student is recognized for her insights, unique personality, and finds her platform to contribute to the class and to the greater community. Ma’ayanot teachers are moderators, not orators, and the classroom is a think tank, not a lecture hall. No idea is dismissed. So often I would sit back and think — Wow, we had this idea that we talked about in or out of class (sometimes while sitting on the floor, sometimes we were wearing shoes, sometimes we weren’t…) and now we are actually on the trip, running the program, taking the class…stuff really happens.

Ma’ayanot gave us the confidence to be creative and generate new ideas and the resources and the support to execute them. On a personal level, I literally cannot thank you enough. For always supporting us and challenging us to reach beyond. For believing that we have the power to make a difference. For hearing our voices, for helping us find our voices, for caring, for giving us a word of encouragement on a rough day. For demonstrating how to think broadly while humbly maintaining the integrity of our roots.

We have honed the skills to understand, and the faith to not always understand, sometimes simply to trust.  As we chart our own separate paths, harnessing the power to be generative and progress, with Torah at the center of our lives, we will always have hakarat hatov (gratitude) for our Ma’ayanot experience and our parents and grandparents who have come before us.Nike Air Zoom Pegasus

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