Skip To Main Content
A JK-12 pluralistic school that engages students in an exemplary and inspiring general and Jewish education.

Faculty Remarks - Siyyum 2019

Melissa Fisanich

In addition to graduation, every class participates in a Siyyum (completion) celebration. Our faculty speaker at this year's Siyyum was Melissa Fisanich, High School English Teacher. 

Members of the Class of 2019, it is a sincere pleasure to have been chosen by your particular class as faculty speaker.  As a grade, you are beloved by the teachers at JDS for qualities you possess that make you very special.  You have always been an easy group to teach. You are an incredibly talented grade, as we’ll hear more about today and Sunday. But if I had to pick a single quality to describe you, I would say the quality that most sets you apart is that you are earnest. By this I mean that you consistently enter the classrooms of JDS with a willing spirit, ready to learn, ready to trust us.  You have humility.  That’s what I was like in high school, too.  I was eager to learn, to be told what to do, to be coached. And it’s about that very thing that I want to speak to you today.

If you’ve spent some time in my classroom, or participated in Harry Potter trivia on Color War, you know I’m a big fan of adventure stories.  As a kid I devoured stories about epic quests to save the world with unlikely heroes being plucked from obscurity and cultivating amazing gifts under the guidance of a cantankerous-but-loving mentor. I longed for the day that I would discover that the force was with ME. Or that thirteen dwarves and a wizard would show up at my humble hobbit hole in need of ME to be their lucky number.  When my turn came to face the Sphinx, as I was sure it would one day, would I know the answer to the riddle? [Sigh.]  In short, I spent a lot of my young life wondering when my quest would begin.

My first job out of college was working for a small law firm right here in Rockville.  The lawyer who was the managing partner of the firm was a real taskmaster -- no nonsense with this guy.  So when a big snowstorm rolled in one day, he let us know as the first flakes were falling that the office WOULD remain open and that NO ONE would be allowed to leave early.  Naturally, by close of business, 270 northbound was crawling. You couldn’t see any asphalt at all; every lane was just packed snow.  By 8:30 PM, after 3 hours of driving, I had made it from Rockville to Germantown, about halfway to my parents’ house.  By this time, there were accidents everywhere, people were abandoning their cars on the side of the road, people were running out of gas right in the lanes where their cars were sitting.

 I was just a few years older than you are now when this happened. And this was before cell phones. There was no way to call 911 or let my parents know I was okay.  I finally got to my parents’ exit with a sigh of relief, assuming that traffic on smaller roads would be lighter.  But, to my horror, the traffic after I got off 270 was worse! I sat in my car without moving for another 20 minutes, watching as the needle on my gas gauge dropped closer to empty!

That’s when I began to panic a little. Maybe I should just abandon my car and walk home? Would it be worth getting back on 270 and going up to the next exit above my parents’ house? There was, at least, a gas station up there.  And a payphone.  Which option was better: abandon the car and walk? Stay the course? Turn around and head to the next exit? There were no clear options.

As I wrestled with this tough decision, a random thought flitted through my mind: this is about as close to solving the riddle of the Sphinx as I would be likely to get in my lifetime.  At that very moment, a shock of realization coursed through me:  this WAS my quest! Not driving home in a snowstorm -- that was just a part of it.  This whole THING -- work, life, all of it -- is my quest.  And it’s the quest you’ll be facing soon.  You’ll start by deciding which college to attend, which -- believe it or not -- might be more challenging than deciding where to apply!  When you are in college, you’ll have to solve all kinds of riddles -- from deciding on a major to deciding what kinds of things you’re going to put into your body.  You’ll have roommate questions:  continue to live with your freshman roommate, who’s not a close friend, but someone you know you can live with, or move into a suite with your best friends?  You may be faced with a tough decision whether to take an internship for a semester or sign up for a course that you really want to take that’s only going to be offered once.  After college, you’ll decide whether to continue immediately to graduate school or begin your career.  And when you’re out of school, your quest becomes much more varied and high-stakes! Wait until you have to choose a health insurance plan, or buy a house!  Just like a hero in a story, you’ll make mistakes and have to deal with the consequences.   You may even find yourself stuck in a line of traffic in a snowstorm, wondering what to do and where to go, as I was on that cold December evening in 1990, when I was only 4 years older than you are now.

But wait a minute -- if my quest had begun, wasn’t I supposed to have received some kind of “Call to Action?”  Wasn’t an owl supposed to deliver my Hogwarts letter or something?  When had that happened? Had it been while I was earnestly writing an essay for an English teacher in high school, or working on a lab report?  Had that call to action come while I was diligently practicing scales and etudes on my violin, or practicing bump-set-spike drills under the watchful eye of my volleyball coach? 

It had! And I had missed it! Because you don’t hear that clarion call when you’re earnestly listening to instructions.  It comes in quiet moments of decision-making when you’re down to just you and your tools and your wits. and you have to reach down inside yourself and somehow figure out how to become that hero that you’ve known you can be all along. 

So, from one formerly earnest good child turned adventure hero to 97 others, I say to you, members of the CESJDS Class of 2019 that if you listen hard, you will hear your own clarion call and know that it is time to put on your travelling cloak, to take up your staff, and to mount your steed. Heroes, the time for earnest obedience is now over and you are called to action.  May the blessings of your mentors -- my colleagues and I -- who love you very much -- be upon you as you leave us to go to your destinies.