Hats Off to the Class of 2012

Wise words from commencement speakers.

A simple toss of a cap in the air marks the end of four years of high school. Graduation is not only an educational milestone, it marks an entry into adulthood. A time when young people transition away from their parent’s home and venture into an exciting time of learning, travel and higher education; the start of exploring who they are and what they want to be.

In celebration, Fresh Ink for Teens collected words of inspiration, reflection and gratitude from commencement speakers from across the country. In contrast to the negativity that pervades our lives — a down economy, tensions in the Middle East, a rise in anti-Semitism at home — their messages are optimistic and hopeful.

Mazal tov to all the 2012 high school graduates, may they go from strength to strength.

Headshot of Batya Abadie. Batya Abadie is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn. In the fall, Batya will attend Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem.

“As we take the next step in our lives, there is one thing I would like to leave my fellow seniors with: the importance of leadership. Each and every one of us has what it takes to be a leader. We were the leaders and examples for the rest of the student body. We will all at some stage be faced with difficult and uncomfortable situations, challenging our ability. It is imperative that we continue to apply our acquired leadership skills throughout our lives. I have no doubt we will overcome any circumstance, meet any goal and be the trailblazers we were raised to be.”

Adam Ashkenazi, is a graduate of the Shalhevet School in Los Angeles. He will attend Northwestern University. Headshot of Adam Ashkenazi.

“We, the Shalhevet Class of 2012, have every great characteristic that a graduating class could hope for. We’re leaders, moral thinkers, innovators and problem solvers. We strive to be creative, opinionated, just and open-minded.

These qualities have been given to us, or at least strengthened, by Shalhevet’s unique culture and will remain with us for eternity. We are all moving onto different communities that are definitely different from Shalhevet’s, but I pray that we all find these great communities, and even if they may not initially be as warm as Shalhevet’s, we can help transform these communities to be that warm. As we all start our own journeys and our paths diverge, I can only hope that our next journey will be comparable to our Shalhevet high school experience and I trust that our paths will converge once again.”

Rachel Beyda is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn. She will be attending Barnard College.

Headshot of Rachel Beyda. “For me, it has always been a challenge to balance my school career with my social life. Every day I faced an inner conflict — go out or study? Do another page or take a break? Sometimes I found myself veering too much to one side. But over the years, I learned that neither alone would lead to true self-satisfaction. Lean towards one, you will wind up feeling empty, the other — overworked and anxious. However, as freshmen year turned into sophomore and sophomore year into junior, I started to find a comfortable balance. I learned that although going out and having fun is often very luring, there exists an eternal, more fulfilling happiness that comes with an intellectual or emotional pursuit. That sometimes I must sacrifice a pleasure, to achieve an even greater one. I also learned that everyone must find their own balance that is good for them, that keeps them learning and growing — yet sane and happy.”

Alexander Brown is a graduate of Bergen County High School of Jewish Students (BCHSJS) and Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, N.J. In the fall he will attend Tulane University.

“The teachers here treat us more like friends, almost colleagues, instead of students. They are willing to have insightful and frank discussions with us about all topics, ranging from the intricacies of the Torah to our personal lives. They have helped transform me into the person I am today.”

Jami Ganz, is a graduate of BCHSJS and Paramus High School in Paramus, N.J. She will attend SUNY-Binghamton in the fall.

“Unlike most people, I actually chose to come here and followed in the footsteps of BCHSJS alumni in the struggle to pull myself out of bed every Sunday morning, while cursing myself for signing up. And then I’d get here and wish I didn’t have to leave. … It must have been the bagels … or the people who have become lifelong friends. … And while the goal of BCHSJS is to learn about and get in touch with one’s Judaism, I’ve learned more about myself here, than anything else. And I can’t thank BCHSJS enough for that privilege.”

Ariella Joffe is a graduate of the Shalhevet School in Los Angeles. She will attend Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem.

Headshot of Ariella Joffe. “A message that is so often preached by our administration, faculty and parents is that we need to be ourselves and not concern ourselves with the expectations of others. While that message has been more than instrumental, I’ve learned that lesson most from my fellow graduates; it is through your support and friendship that I’ve found the courage to face my flaws and hopefully have grown for the better. I look at all of you and I see 33 close friends who are all so much more intelligent, so much more confident and such better people than you were four years ago.

Graduation is a momentous occasion. Some of you can’t wait to leave high school and get on with your lives, while others don’t know how they will cope in a place that they don’t know and don’t recognize. I would like to propose that today is actually the day our lives begin. Today we each become our own person. No longer do we have our school and our parents to fall back upon, to fend for us when we are careless and lazy. We are now completely responsible for ourselves.”

Gedaliah Knizhnik is a graduate of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Md. He will be a student at Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva in Israel. Headshot of Gedaliah Knizhnik.

“Our challenge at this crucial juncture is to make the knowledge we’ve gained real, to leap from theory to practice, from the classroom and the schoolyard to the real world. We’re in a situation comparable to the first time you go driving by yourself — you know how everything works, you’ve done it many times before, but it’s scary because you’re out on your own and you have to make your own decisions with no help. The analogy is far from perfect, but I think it works well enough. We have the knowledge we’ve gained and the moral fortitude we’ve learned in the past 12 years to work off of, we know where we’re starting from, and most of us have a decent sense of where we want to end up. But life doesn’t have a GPS. What’s worse, life doesn’t even have Google Maps. We have to read the street signs, make our decisions as best we can, and hope we get where we want to go. We’re all aiming to get from point A to point B, but the paths we take are up to us.”

Matthew Kritz is a graduate of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Md. In the fall he will study at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, Israel.

Headshot of Matthew Kritz. “As Moshe reflected on what the Jewish people had achieved, he reminded them as he reminds us that that’s how our lives ought to be measured, by what we accomplish; not by length but by greatness, not in numbers but with adjectives and verbs, not in minutes but in moments, not by how much we make, but by how much we matter.

That’s the goal. We have to matter. We have a responsibility to live with meaning, to identify the values we believe in and to devote ourselves completely to them. Your cause may be promoting religious Zionism, defending agunot, supporting attire that is modest, fashionable and environmentally friendly or providing drink to thirsty children through an underground company based in your locker, all of which have been supported by members of our class (who will remain unnamed). But each of us has values and principles we believe in, as well as gifts and talents that are too great to be wasted solely on ourselves. The challenge, though, is keeping them on our front burners.”

Deborah Pollack is a graduate of Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. She will be attending Barnard College.Headshot of Deborah Pollack.

“In the tefilah that we that recite every year on erev Yom Kippur, and that we learned in Hebrew class in 10th grade [translated into English as “clay in the creator’s hand”] we are humbled by reminding God and reminding ourselves that our fate is in God’s hands. The prayer conveys the idea that in life, God is the potter and we are His clay. God has formed us into ‘what’ we are but it is ultimately up to us to shape ‘who’ we are; God makes the vessel, we determine the potential. With fate, things happen regardless of whether we do anything, but destiny implies potential — it can only be realized by our actions and our songs. Over the past four years, I hope that all of you have discovered your hidden talents and what you value in life; yet, those are all givens and are built into your DNA.

Part of the Ramaz process is discovering what your shlichut is, what your destiny is. As actress Viola Davis stated when accepting her Critics Choice Award, ‘The two most important days in a person’s life is the day you were born and the day you discover why you were born.’ God has given us our traits and our qualities; but the Ramaz mission is for us to share those attributes and volunteer to use those traits for a purpose. Ramaz has not only helped us find the current tunes in our head; it has helped us acknowledge what we are capable of singing in the future.”Nike Air Jordan Apparel

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