As the summer months slip through our fingertips, recent high school graduates are busy preparing for the next stage of their lives. Whether headed to college or taking a gap year, moving on from the past four years can cause both uncertainty and excitement. In celebration of this new journey, Fresh Ink for Teens collected excerpts of commencement speeches and words of inspiration, reflection and gratitude from recent graduates.

Mazel Tov to all our graduates. Keep writing! 

Josef Kusayev is a graduate of Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. Next year, he will be attending The Lander College for Men’s Medical Honors Pathway to the New York Medical College.

“When I first came to high school, I doubted the famous slogan of the school, “Four years for the rest of your life.” Could this school really impact me in such a way as to leave a lasting impression beyond my time in school? Would the ideals and lessons I learned in Flatbush carry me forward throughout the rest of my life?

Standing here, looking back, I can answer my skeptical self with a definite and astounding yes. We have been taught many important ideas, ideals, and values, which we will all need throughout our lives. Specifying each one will have us here for another four years. But I want to focus on one, the most needed and crucial ideal – Integrity.

Every Flatbush student knows the announcement at the beginning of finals from Rabbi Harari about integrity. The Rabbi says that the objective of integrity is to be honest and proud of what you have accomplished, to present yourself as you are, and to respect the due consequences of your actions. Rabbi Harari’s words definitely hold true for finals, and by extension the rest of the school year. But will we uphold the ideal of integrity outside of school? After leaving our comfort zone, will we be able to fight the inclination to lie or cheat for personal gain? How can the efforts invested in us by our school affect our moral decisions outside in the real world?

Our forefather Yaakov can serve as a paradigm of integrity and truth for all of us. The circumstances of our entrance into a morally compromised world are comparable to Yaakov’s servitude to Lavan. Yaakov left his family, the pinnacle of morality, to work for Lavan, the epitome of evil and deceit.  Yaakov’s temptations to lie, cheat, and steal were very great. And yet, at Yaakov’s final confrontation with Lavan, Yaakov describes how he never stole from Lavan or acted wrongly against him. Yaakov –  maintained his integrity. Although he was no longer in the warmth of his parent’s household being encouraged to do the right thing. Although he suffered as a result of his honesty. Although he would have been justified being dishonest.  Despite this he overcame the challenges and remained an Ish Emet. Similarly, when we leave, we must also take the value of integrity with us wherever we go, despite the temptations and opportunities that are presented.”

Batya Bousbib is a graduate of SAR Academy in Riverdale, N.Y. She will be attending Sha’alvim for Women in Jerusalem followed by Stern College for Women in Manhattan.

“‘And G-d said let there be light, and there was light… and Hashem separated the light and the darkness.’ Four years ago, everything was blurry. We were unsure of where to go or what to do. We groped about in the tohu vavohu of ninth grade. However, regardless of where we came from, sparks flew and light was created. Weeks and then months went by, and we became a distinct, visible group that began learning and navigating our way through what was once a dark and unrecognizable world. And we, the class of 2017, looked at one another– and we knew that it was good.

… ‘And Hashem blessed the seventh day, and He hallowed it, for thereon he abstained from all His work that G-d created to do.’ Throughout the last four years, we have learnt, grown, argued and laughed. We started as a grade, then became a community, and finally a family. No family is perfect, but our time in SAR has given us the tools and wisdom to keep learning and to keep growing; to ultimately figure out the type of people, but more specifically and importantly the type of Jewish people we want to be in the years to come. Shabbat is a time to say thank you, to show our appreciation to those around us- for giving us love, friendship, and encouragement. Today, our graduation, is the Shabbat of our four-year journey together.”

Tehilla Mammon is a graduate of Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett, L.I. In the fall, she be studying at Tomer Devorah Seminary in Jerusalem and plans on attending Queens College.

“Having recently graduated, I feel like the only teen who already misses high school. I can finally understand my father’s common statement of “I wish I could go back to high school,” since I now feel the same way.”

Mimi Lazerowitz is a graduate of Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. Next year, she will be attending the University of Pennsylvania.

“My friends and I are at the end of a road. We graduate from high school
and go on new paths – to study in Israel, to study at university, to work, to new relationships, and to whatever is in our futures.

We are at the stage of our lives where we have more of an understanding of who we are and what our aspirations are. Studying at the Yeshivah has helped us discover and cultivate our talents and inclinations. Many of us developed love for writing, reading, drama, sports, acts of hesed, and other fields. We discovered new and interesting topics in classes and outside of classes.

Teachers, principals, and advisors helped us find and develop our capabilities and encouraged us to be leaders and activists.

With the help of God, we will all embark on long journeys, meet many people, discover new areas of interest, acquire additional skills, and develop various hobbies.

In a few years, and maybe even in a few months, our lives will probably look very different from each other. But, wherever we are, we will always have a common bond.”

Jordan Pressel is a graduate of Columbia High School in Maplewood N.J. Jordan will be attending Young Judaea Year Course in the fall.

“Just 5 years ago, I was the kid who had his Bar Mitzvah and then decided he would never attend Hebrew School again. I couldn’t even locate Israel on a map, and couldn’t care less about events happening in the region. But thankfully that all changed Freshman year on my first trip to Israel. When I look back on the previous 4 years, I could not have imagined my life would have turned out like this. I still vividly remember the night of July 13, 2014 like it was yesterday. I was in Israel and a rocket flew directly over the car we were traveling in. We pulled over to the side of the road and huddled under an overpass. Taking cover on the side of the highway, huddled together with other Israelis, was one of the most memorable events I have ever experienced. When I returned home from Israel, I was inspired to become politically involved.

This has been my 3rd year with my Jewish youth group and my 2nd year at Hebrew High, so I have continued to be an active member of the Jewish community. At first, I was hesitant to sign up for Hebrew school because I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, on the first night of programming, I knew I made the right decision. Through Hebrew High, I found my true passions; Israel and politics. Coming to Hebrew High every week was why I grew to love being Jewish and getting involved. I am sad to be leaving the Jewish community of NJ but I will never forget the countless memories I have spent with all of you, whether in Hebrew High, at a Youth event, or at other events.

I am happy to say that on September 3rd I am following my passion and my dream of living in Israel with Young Judaea on a gap year program studying political science. I look forward to beginning the next chapter in my life in September. While I am a little nervous, I am excited to embark on this amazing journey, and discover even more of my Jewish Identity and my connection to Israel. As the late Israeli leader Shimon Peres said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” This community is my miracle. Next year in Jerusalem!”