Sarah Ricklan's Valedictory (Translated)
Teachers, grandparents, parents, guests, and classmates, I am honored to speak to you today at our Commencement.
I have never understood the term “Commencement.” I have seen the word on flashing boards around Boston in May, and we have all groaned at the traffic associated with the ceremony. But growing up, I did not understand why it was called “Commencement” and not “Graduation.” After all, the word “commencement” implies a start, a beginning, something new. The word “graduation,” by contrast, implies an end, a goodbye, moving on. While we are embracing our future today at our Commencement, we are primarily bidding our past farewell. So how is this a Commencement if all we are doing is saying goodbye?
I do not want to leave this place, this school that has become my home. I will miss going to every single class knowing that the teacher genuinely cares about me. I will miss knowing that I can turn to anyone, student or teacher, if I need help or just an ear to listen. I will miss my teachers who, through their passion and expertise, made me want to learn. I will miss the little things that make our hallways a haven: the writing on lockers, the ballgames, the music blasting, and the snacks shared when the days seem so long. I will miss the day the sun finally comes out after an endless winter and everyone streams into the courtyard to eat lunch. I will miss the frustrated mutterings when too many students jostle for the microwaves. I will miss the ubiquitous question, “What class do we have next?” I might even miss the bells. I am not ready to say goodbye to these things, these simple things that have defined our routine for so long. And I am most certainly not ready to say goodbye to my classmates.
A few weeks ago, the high school enjoyed a Shabbaton at Camp Yavneh. On the Saturday night, students and teachers crowded around a bonfire. The flames rose up in the middle of the circle, the smoke swirling into the starry sky above us. Everyone was just talking, roasting marshmallows, and being in each other’s company; it was serene. Then, one member of my class picked up a guitar and another sang along. Soon, the night was filled with chords and melodies. The firelight illuminated my friends’ smiles, their lips mouthing the lyrics of the song. The unity I felt at that moment, the comradery implicit in singing the same words at the same time, was more than beautiful. It was Maimonides.
More than that, it was our grade. My classmates have always had the initiative to start things. And my classmates do not become jealous of those who start things, but instead they sing along. We support each other wholeheartedly, and we are proud and excited when one of us succeeds. We are interested in each other’s lives, interested in each other’s goals and plans. Over the second semester of senior year, there were so many conversations about our senior projects; we all lapped up our friends’ unique talents. I am so blessed to be a member of the class of 2012, a class with immeasurable integrity, kindness, and ability.
I am scared to walk away. But in my moments of fear, I remember what Maimonides has given me. It has empowered me to live in both the secular world and the religious world, as the Rav envisioned. I know that I can be an observant Jewish woman and still be a doctor. Just as I can open a Gemara and learn how to make utensils kosher, I can open a chemistry textbook and understand how to electroplate a silver spoon. But I have been given more than just a way to merge two worlds. Maimonides has given me a sense of morality. I have a strong set of values, a kind of instinct about wrong and right. I know that not everything I encounter outside these walls will fall neatly into these categories, but I am equipped with a discerning way of thinking that will guide me through that gray. When I think about that, I am confident, not afraid. I am also grateful for my brilliant teachers. I admire their wisdom, and I thank them for the unbelievable education they gave us.
Well, time stops for no one, and so here we are, soon to receive our diplomas, about to leave the place that has raised us. When I was little, I would wonder where we would all be at our ten-year reunion. Which one of us will be the famous author? Who will be the successful businessperson? Who will be on track to win a Nobel Prize? I would not be surprised if, in the future, I turn on the TV and see a familiar name associated with some accomplishment. Most of all, I know that whether we change the world or change our block, we will do it with decency and respect.
Although we leave our school to find our own, separate paths, I am not saying goodbye. We will see each other again. One of the things about Maimo is that we will be in each other’s lives. We will come back and visit, chat with teachers, help younger students; we will keep in touch. So perhaps today is not as I originally thought. It is not about closing off our past. We cannot just close off our past; it is part of who we are. And we cannot fully leave this place, because Maimonides is not just a network. It is not just a group of friends. It is not just a school. It is a family, and we cannot just break away from our family.
Maybe at other institutions, “Graduation” would be the appropriate description. The graduating class may very well be saying goodbye, never to return again. But Maimonides School is not one of those institutions. We are not closing any doors today as we open the new ones. That is one of the gifts Maimonides School has given us. We have the master key to every door in the world. This is a Commencement in its fullest sense. So, teachers, grandparents, parents, guests, and my friends, the class of 2012, let’s begin.