Roz Landy is the Interim High School Principal and Dean of Students at CESJDS.
Class of 2021. What a crazy year this has been, what an extraordinary journey for all of us, and especially for you. There were many days that I doubted that we would ever be able to hold a graduation ceremony, so I am thrilled that we are here today --- you, your parents, siblings, and faculty… all together to celebrate you.
At Siyyum and in your Cantata, you referenced a number of times that you were a challenging group when you were younger. You entered the upper school in 2016, and, as you pointed out, you did not have the most stellar reputation. We all wondered how we would manage to engage you and bring you together as a community. You were each proud that you were unique individuals who marched to the beat of your own drummer, but we wanted to be sure that you would become a community by your senior year. While we did team building activities in outdoor ed, you continued to focus on your individual achievements in ninth and tenth grades.
And then, in the fall of your junior year, you began to come together as a K’hillah, a community. When you learned about the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian, you planned a fundraiser to help those who were affected by this tragedy. You showed great creativity when you encouraged students to donate money to “smash a pie in the face of one of their favorite teachers” and as a result, you raised $1000 to donate to the Red Cross.
And then, at your junior Shabbaton in January, you showed us your newfound “cohesion” as a class; you engaged in thoughtful discussions, demonstrated great spirit, were supportive of one another and had a wonderful time!! We were all very excited to watch you as you completed your junior year and entered your senior year --- we expected that you would shine.
And then, BOOM! The pandemic struck and devastated all of us. We worried about the future and wondered how your class would handle the disappointments. No final Zimriyah to prove that you could FINALLY win one! No standardized test dates, no college visits, no color war, no sports. No in-person school, no socializing with your friends. It was one disappointment after another and it might have brought down any class.
But, you did not allow the pandemic and the shutdown of your junior and senior years to deter you from your goals in academic, athletic or artistic endeavors. You continued to focus on your sports and, as a result, four of you are entering your freshman year as college athletes. You were selected as a Bronfman Scholar, chosen as a Congressional Art Competition award winner, and one of you had an article published in The Concord Review, the only quarterly journal in the world that publishes academic history research of high school students. All of your publications won the most prestigious awards conferred and you created and produced a virtual art show for the community in March.
When the pandemic made it impossible to find internships and summer jobs, you took initiative to find ways to be active and productive. One of you started a basketball summer camp for neighborhood kids, another learned the skills to curate a museum exhibit, and a classmate took care of and fostered rescue dogs.
As a class, you showed exceptional creativity. When you could not return to school in your senior year, you hosted outside activities, masked and socially distanced of course, to make certain that you could be together. You hosted a senior sunrise breakfast, a 2021 car decorating afternoon, a dodgeball competition with the juniors, and a tie dye party... all outdoors. You initiated QuaranTEENed - JDS’s first ever podcast and won an award for your efforts. Your Lion’s Tale editors were successful in convincing a skeptical administration to adopt a Press Rights Protocol, which gives newspaper students at our school the First Amendment rights guaranteed to public school students, the first Jewish Day School in the country to do so. Such distinguished accomplishments!
Nothing you did, however, evoked more pride than what you did in the area of Tikkun Olam, helping to make the world a better place. You began the pandemic immediately by writing letters of thanks to health care workers and delivering them, along with some goodies, to Suburban Hospital. In April, 2020, a month after we left school, you initiated a program soliciting JDS families to donate food to those who were suffering. You knew most people were not venturing out of their homes, so you drove all over DC, VA and MD, collecting food donations and delivering them to Yad Yehuda, the Shriver School, and Manna Food Center. You collected carloads and carloads of food and helped to support many needy families. And you continued feeding the hungry through the summer and into your senior year.
But you were not satisfied. Before Thanksgiving in your senior year, you collected over 350 lbs of food and purchased gift cards for turkeys which you delivered to the National Center for Children and Families, supporting the vulnerable in our region. When you learned that many in the elderly population have to choose between food insecurity and critical healthcare, you stepped up again and joined the 2020 Meal Pack Challenge with AARP. You held a fundraiser, grocery shopped, and packed 50 food boxes to deliver to the Capital Area Food Bank. You were amazing and should be very proud of all that you have accomplished.
As you probably know, it is my pleasure to give the graduating seniors a gift that exemplifies how I see them as a class. So, how do I see you, Class of 2021? As a class, you took everything in stride. You never complained. You never said “woe is us; no senior year.” You worked hard, applied to college and made the best of a very challenging and difficult year. You may have started your high school career on the slow side but you definitely finished high school as winners. So, when I think of you, 2021, I think of the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. The hare is very confident that he is the best and will win the race, so he stops and takes a rest. The tortoise starts out very slowly but persists, is focused and determined and finally wins the race. This story validates that, despite a slow start, you can win the race with grit, determination and heart. And that is what I see when I look out at you, 2021, a class with determination, grit and heart. You have finished FIRST!!
Thus, my gift to you is a tortoise, a copy of the classic Tortoise and the Hare book, and a 2021 luggage tag for all of your future adventures. There is also a handy tool kit, a gift from the CESJDS Parent Association.
If there has been a defining moment thus far in your lives, it was the pandemic. You have risen to the occasion, you have shown how special you are and I am totally confident that you are well prepared to go out in the world, be successful and make us all proud.
I love you all and will miss you. And now it is a privilege for me to read the names of the members of the CESJDS senior class as Rabbi Malkus gives out the diplomas.