Class of 2024 Culmination Celebration Speech

The following is the address Dr. Lipsky gave to the 8th Grade at their Culmination Celebration

You may not believe me when I say that I have been imagining this moment for three years now, and words cannot fully express how disappointed I am that we aren’t gathering together with family and friends in the theater at this very moment. This speech was really hard to write because you, JDS Class of 2024, are particularly special to me. Your 6th grade year was my first year at JDS and so many of your first experiences at the Upper School were also mine. I am thrilled and grateful that we can still celebrate all of you tonight – because you absolutely deserve to be celebrated.

When you first arrived at the Upper School, you were wide-eyed and eager to jump into every possible activity available to you. I recall so many of you wondering about how you were going to fit all of your interests into your schedules and what to do first. You were eager to meet new friends who had recently joined the grade and get serious about your learning - as one of you once told me, you were ready to get into some “real” STEM courses that would push your already hacker-level computer and engineering skills to the next level. I vividly recall a large number of you asking about the Middle School musical sign ups the first week of school, and then worrying that they weren’t until January! 

There are many ways to capture your class’s numerous qualities. The two that stand out to me most are your dedication to Kehillah/Community and Tikun Olam/Repairing the World. Our Middle School draws inspiration from the pasuk “Im Ein Ani Li Mi Li, Uchshe Ani L’Atzmi, Ma Ani, V’Im Lo Achshav Eitmatai?” If I am not for myself then who will be for me, and if I am only for myself who am I?, and if not now when?” We have watched as you matured over these last three years to become a community of individuals dedicated to your individual and collective responsibilities to improve our world. Your commitment to social justice and social action is reflected in the numerous ways that you have stood up both in and out of school and the level of thought you put into choosing where to allocate your Bnei Mitzvah funds and with which organizations you wanted to partner for your Capstone projects. Though we were unable to carry out most of your Capstone projects, it was obvious that you have a very real understanding of how to give back to your universe of obligation. Last year, during Ms. Librando’s class, many of you watched a debate among some of our congressmen and women. You told Ms. Librando that you were disappointed with the way they were speaking to one another and that you expected more of our leaders. This was a turning point for you as you recognized the importance of engaging respectfully in dialogue and discourse about an idea. 

It did not take long for you to realize that you could take an active role in shaping your middle school experience and in shaping how we, the adults, think about the world around us.  Amazingly, though unsurprisingly, as individuals and as a community you quickly took on leadership roles in each of your passion areas, where leadership roles didn’t exist you helped create them. For example, The Green Team remained strong these last three years specifically because of students in your class. This year’s STEM day was a huge success because at the end of last year’s STEM Day a few of you rushed over to Ms. Batson to ask if you could take on part of the responsibility for planning the day for your peers. In the end, multiple 8th grade students helped plan STEM Day and then led it with grace and poise. Through Knesset with Dr. Apter, you demonstrated the very real concerns you have about issues related to dress code and gender equality, making passionate and evidence-based arguments from the podium to your peers. I am personally disappointed that we could not continue the Knesset process through the end of this year. 

At the end of 8th grade, you were supposed to be gearing up for your capstone trip and getting ready for high school. Then COVID-19 happened. Things changed instantly, and in short, our new reality really sucked. In the face of this new challenge, you shined brightly. Your unceasing commitment to make the best of every situation led you through today’s crises with resilience, humility, and an unwavering dedication to keeping your 8th grade community strong. It was remarkable to watch you rally together and create class bonding opportunities, take on leadership roles for Notlanta Week where you facilitated discussions with professionals from different areas, reflected on your personal growth, and engaged deeply in difficult conversations about historical and current racial injustices that continue to mar our country. 

Your commitment to Kehillah, to your learning, and to Tikkun Olam, even in the most difficult of times, is remarkable. It is common for adults to talk about how students are our future leaders. I believe you have demonstrated that in many ways you have already become our guides. We are so proud of each of you and cannot wait to see where your leadership takes us. 

I want to take a moment to thank all of your incredible teachers who helped bring you to this point. They are outstanding and dedicated educators. A special thank you to Dr. Eytan Apter and Rabbi Janet Ozur Bass who worked exceptionally hard to make both the Kol HaKavod Parade and this evening a true celebration of our 8th grade students. In addition to their hard work, we are also extremely grateful to those faculty members who helped support tonight’s celebration: Ms. Rachel Meytin, Ms. Vanessa Robin and Mr. Aaron Dunn, and grateful to our class parent representative Ms. Lisa Levin who organized collecting all of the students’ photos as their younger selves.  Thank you. 

The Parent Association is pleased to give each 8th grader a mug to commemorate their completing 8th grade. The mugs will be available for pick-up next week during our locker clean out week. Please be sure to arrive during your designated time slot.

It is now my distinct privilege to read aloud our 8th grade students’ names. Parents, when I read your child’s name, please place the medallion around your child’s neck. 

Eliana reads student names:

Mazal tov to the Class of 2024! It is my pleasure to introduce Rabbi Janet Ozur Bass who will lead the closing part of our ceremony.