Alumni Speaker Remarks – 2021 Graduation
Stephanie Cantor '08

Every year, an alum is asked to address the class at CESJDS graduation. Stephanie Cantor graduated in 2008. 

Hello class of 2021, it is truly an honor to be here with you today!

I want to read you something from my senior yearbook. 

“Experiencing the extraordinary is what happens when you win zimriyah and are screaming in a mosh pit with your entire grade. Everyone around is disgusting and sweaty, but you don't care because you’re having the time of your life. And it’s the feeling you get during Color war when you watch the entire school sing the Birkat Hamazon in unison, only to break out in blue and gold banter. It’s a feeling that people experience everyday in school but cannot find anywhere else.” 

This quote from my friends Ellie and Robert in my senior yearbook perfectly captures the way I feel today,13 years later. Here I am, in a room filled with mostly strangers yet in an instant, we are deeply connected. We are family. 

Maya Angelou said: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I still haven’t forgotten the way that Mrs. Landy and Ms. Goldstein made me feel when they encouraged me to co-found a new community service club at JDS which, ultimately, led me to my current career in social entrepreneurship. I may not remember the quadratic equations that Mr. Silberman taught, or the halacha we learned with Rabbi Slater, yet I still remember the way each of those incredible teachers ignited a spark in me that I’ve been chasing ever since.

The feeling I got at JDS has become my guidepost. After college, I worked long hours at an international consulting firm. 5 years later, I realized I had lost sight of MY purpose. I yearned for that sense of community and commitment to the wellbeing of others that had been sparked at JDS. I wasn’t sure what that looked like in my adult life. So - I took a leap of faith, moved overseas to pursue a Masters in Social Entrepreneurship and went all-in on my passion for serving others. I co-founded a social enterprise in Kenya and, today, I am building a new venture to scale the success of nonprofits. I have a firm grasp on Tikun Olam and how to lead my life by its tenets...MY purpose. 

JDS taught me how to find my purpose -- how to be part of something bigger than myself, to work toward some goal, whatever it may be, with the same passion, drive, and commitment I did when I was preparing for Zimriyah…and let me tell you, I took that very seriously!! And my sources tell me you guys took it seriously too. Just remember it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the experience and being a part of something bigger than yourself. 

Your path will look different than mine. I, for one, didn’t experience my senior year during a global pandemic, so you are already more prepared to face whatever uncertainty comes your way! As you go out into the world and prepare to do big things, I challenge you to deeply connect with your community. Dive into something bigger than yourself. Find your purpose. Then channel that indescribable feeling you felt during powderpuff, color war, when you came together during yam el yam, or any other time JDS gave you that inner strength and courage to soar, and be the very best version of yourself!  

Create your own path guided by your purpose and your values. Use that as a constant compass to guide you towards enriching the community and the world around you, the same way you have already done during your time at JDS! And if you ever get lost along the way, you have the entire JDS family ready to cheer you on, to host you wherever you are living in the world, and to be resources for you in your professional and personal aspirations. While you may be leaving JDS, JDS never leaves you.

Mazel tov class of 2021 and welcome to the JDS alumni community!