Class of 2021, it is our tremendous privilege and honor to be representing all of our colleagues at your Siyum celebration today. It has been a wild ride being your grade advisors these past four years! Throughout your time here at CESJDS, your grade has been described in a variety of ways by your teachers. We asked some of your beloved teachers to describe your grade with one word and a few responses we got include: growth, resilient, individuals, personality and WHOA! These words only begin to scratch the surface of your amazingness- both as individuals and as a group. This morning, Ms. Batson/Ly and myself hope to touch on some of the ways your grade represents these characteristics as well as give some advice before you all go your separate ways.
When I was in grad school, I read a book about the adolescent brain by Laurence Steinberg called “Age of Opportunity.” In his book, Steinberg focuses on the plasticity of the adolescent brain. By plasticity, he doesn't mean the plastic that we see all around us every day. Plasticity comes from the Greek work plastikos which means “to mold.” He discusses how it used to be thought that brain development was complete early on in life when the brain finishes growing. Steinberg shares that more recent research has concluded that while the brain is finished growing externally, the internal portions of the brain continue to develop through adolescence. So what does this mean for all of you?
Adolescence is a time of growth and development but also a time to make mistakes and bad decisions. Earmuffs to you parents for this part- mistakes are an important part of development! Did you know that in adolescence, the reward typically outweighs the risk? So when you talked back to a teacher, wouldn't stop singing in class, or forgot your mask at home, it was because your brain made you do it! As Steinberg says, “If adolescents are so smart, why do they do such stupid things?” Maybe these things aren't stupid and they are the exact opposite- they're learning experiences- they're what make us SMART and RESILIENT adults.
All of the friendships you made, the teachers you met, the experiences you had, scoring the winning basket in a game, or being the lead in the play are memories you will remember forever. On the other hand, that time you missed the go-ahead goal in a soccer match, or lost that mock trial match will also be memories you will remember forever. Both the good and the bad will help develop who you become later on in life. Cherish all of these memories you have made with your teachers, your families, and your friends. All of the experiences you had during your time at JDS have played a part in molding who you are and who you will become.
You are each leaving JDS with your own personal memories and experiences but alongside those memories and experiences, are ones you created and went through together as a community. Every graduating class leaves its mark on the school and community in a different way. Some win Zim every year. You, the class of 2021, did not win Zim once. Yes, I’m giving you a hard time, but out of love and because none of that mattered to you. Rather than winning, it was always about having fun and being together. This is one of the things that truly set you apart from other grades. No matter what you were faced with, you approached it with humor, lightheartedness, and a sense of unity. You managed to do this even in the toughest situations, like the pandemic. Every other graduating class of JDS got to spend their senior year in the school building and as we all know, you did not. No one anticipated that you would be in quarantine most of your senior year of high school. Despite this, you became closer as a grade and you went out of your way to be there for each other and to embrace k’hilah. No other group of students made the effort you did to plan safe, socially-distanced events to bring the grade together.
The pandemic made it really clear that your grade values community, but as we think about your journey through JDS, the fact is you have always had a way of bringing people together. One example is that it’s because of you that we, the two of us, are as close as we are...you get the credit...or the blame, depending on how you want to look at it. You asked us to be your grade advisors, and for that, we will never forgive you...I’m totally kidding! The most important group of people you brought together was you. Even though each of you is unique and different in personality, interests, and aspirations, you have managed to become a cohesive grade who looks out for each other. You have each others’ back while supporting and pushing each other to grow. In fact, you have pushed everyone around you to grow...even all of us teachers. You challenged all of us and often tested our patience. If I’m being completely honest, there was a time when you made me question whether or not I wanted to stay a teacher. You made me want to quit when I first started at JDS.
Quitting would have been one of the biggest regrets of my life. I am so thankful I stuck it out and worked to earn your trust. Even though you definitely did not make it easy, thank you for giving me a chance and eventually, trusting me to not only be your teacher, but to be one of your grade advisors. I bring this up because throughout my life I have always heard people say that the most worthwhile things in life take hard work, sweat, and tears. And sure there were different challenges and obstacles I faced growing up but it was YOU who truly taught me this lesson. You made me realize how much teaching truly meant to me and that when you are passionate about something, no one and nothing should stand in your way. As you embark on this next chapter of your lives, one piece of advice we have for you is remember this. You will come across people who doubt you, prove them wrong. There will be bad days, but don’t worry, there will be plenty of good days to make up for it. Stay true to yourself, be determined and don’t give up when things get tough because it will be worth it. I promise you that.
It’s all about perspective: Sometimes, you will make plans and God will laugh. You’ll meet people and they won’t turn out the way you expected. You will have bad days and unexpected challenges. But if you shift your perspective and learn from your mistakes, you will continue growing into strong and resilient adults. Whether you choose the wrong school or join a sorority that isn't the perfect fit for you, don't live with regret. When you're a kid, people always ask you, “what do you want to be when you grow up” but they never ask if you are happy with what you are doing right now. So I ask you this, are you happy with where you are right now in this very moment? And if not, how can you get happy? Instead of asking yourself, “What am I going to do with this major?” ask yourself, “Am I happy studying this right now?” Instead of asking yourself, “What city should I live in after I graduate?” ask yourself, “Am I happy where I’m living right now?” There will be a time and place to make plans for the future-- plans are important too. But don’t ever put your plans above your happiness.
Take some time to reflect on your years here at JDS and give yourself space to remember all of the amazing memories you have made as well as all of your hardships. Use all of your experiences to continue to grow as a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, a friend, a partner, and an individual. I know Ms. Batson and myself have certainly grown and changed through our work with your grade these past 4 years, both in good times and in trying times. I can firmly say that I am who I am today because of the experiences and the relationships I have built with this class. I have learned how to be a leader, a listener, and an occasional (or not so occasional) therapist, so thank you for helping me reach my potential every day.
As you graduate from JDS and begin new adventures, build on the memories, experiences, and relationships you have developed. You are entering a world of endless possibilities and though it can be nerve racking, remember that this won’t be the first time you embark on a new journey. When you started high school, you didn’t know what it would entail. And here you are, having accomplished so much and being the the JDS class of many firsts.You were the first to celebrate losing Zimriyah, the first to graduate during a pandemic the first grade to have two faculty speakers and two administrators as your grade advisors, and the first to send at least 4 student-athletes to compete collegiately. As you leave JDS, we know this theme will continue. In this class we might see the first person to find a cure for cancer, first Jewish president, and first alum to return as principal of JDS. Many of you will be the first to do a lot of incredible things in this world and we are so excited to see you take on different challenges in this next chapter of your life. It has been an incredible privilege seeing you grow from stubborn middle schoolers to determined adults. Let the sky be your limit and march to the beat of your own drums. We love each of you so much! Congratulations!