Fresh Ink for Teens

So Long Seniors

Wise words from recent high school graduates.

Noa Spero at her High School graduation (top, second from the left).

The month of June marks the culmination of four years of high school for many seniors across the country. But this end is also a new beginning—a time where teens have the ability to explore who they are and who they want to become as adults and professionals. To commemorate this occasion, Fresh Ink for Teens has collected excerpts of commencement speeches and words of inspiration, reflection and gratitude from the class of 2018. We wish all our high school graduates Mazal Tov. Enjoy the next journey, and remember, keep writing!  

Danielle Duchan is a graduate of Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn. She will attend The Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College in the fall.  

“Over the past four years, I’ve learned what the Torah has been teaching us for thousands of generations: life is nothing if we don’t care for others because caring for others ultimately helps us. Or, to quote my favorite movie, ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return.’

So I’d like to thank you, my fellow graduates, my fellow Class of 2018-ers, for teaching me about myself. And for allowing me to care for each and every one of you, even in some small way. You’ve taught me that there’s always a way to be kind to those around you, even those who aren’t particularly close to you. You’ve taught me that a person is more than just their reputation, that being human isn’t about big mistakes or huge successes, but about small day-to-day support, kindness, and most of all, laughter. I have never met such a compassionate, supportive, and, of course, funny group of people. We have grown so much together, and I hope I’ve made you proud because you have certainly made me proud.

Please remember that all we really have are the connections we make. So don’t be afraid to connect, face-to-face, with those around you. Never leave a word unsaid, a feeling unexpressed. Make a difference; don’t be icy and unfeeling like Korach, but be unafraid to express your feelings and lean into the warmth of kindness. It may be a small change, but even a small change can alter the world.”

Sruli Fruchter is a graduate of Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School in Woodmere, L.I. Sruli will be studying at Yeshivat Orayta next year.

“Reflecting on the past four years of high school, the realization that this milestone of my life has already slipped through my fingers is daunting. High school had seemed like an eternal state of time; my four years spent at DRS Yeshiva High School have been an integral part of my life. On June 11, 2018, I graduated and received my diploma. And just like that, I was done.

High school never required me to make any “life choices.” My daily schedule was structured from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. between Judaic and Secular classes, with varying slots for electives. I followed this schedule from Monday to Thursday, as Sunday and Friday fostered Talmud from 8 a.m. to noon. The furthest I stepped outside of these chalked lines was in my extracurricular activities, both in and out of school. Aside from that, I knew what I was expecting, there were no uncertainties. That was until I ventured into senior year and my plans for the future became the topic of discussion.

I had been preparing for college and the next steps in my life since my freshmen year, but at that point, it only seemed like an idea. Throughout the vicissitudes of my senior year, the thought that I would soon be turning the page on this chapter of my life seemed surreal, but that’s life. Next year, in the 2018-2019 academic year, I’m taking a gap year in Israel to study at Yeshivat Orayta, located in the Old City. Taking a gap year between high school and college had never been a part of my plan, but when the opportunity fell at my feet, I realized that this was an unbelievable chance. I view this upcoming year as a stepping stone for the rest of my life; the advantage this stepping stone provides, however, is solely dependent on the effort and work I invest into it.

Just as I was mastering the maneuvers of high school, I must say goodbye. The road paved ahead of me is filled with crossroads difficult decisions and choices to make, but having made my first choice to take a gap year in Israel, I feel confident to tackle the rest head on.”

Talia Harris is a graduate of Milken Community Schools in Los Angles. Next year, Talia will be attending UC Berkeley.

“As we walk across the stage to accept our high school diplomas, we are marking a crossroads in our lives; leaving behind the safety and comfort of our nurturing, but sometimes frustrating teachers and families, and discovering something new and maybe kind of frightening world. In August, we embark on the next stage of our lives without a safety net or security blanket to catch us if we fall. We have strived and even begged for independence for so many years, but independence is also a double-edged sword. Moving on to college gives us the freedom to make our own decisions—stay out as late as we want, study when we want and for how long and come and go as we please from wherever and whenever we want. But, we also will be taking into consideration the positive and negative consequences of our actions. We won’t be able to have our parents do our laundry anymore or get us out of a sticky situation. We have to rely on ourselves, and I am not sure how you feel, but that scares me.

[To the class of 2018,] now it is your turn to travel far to your new school and experience a new life apart from anything you’ve known. Get involved in college life, be committed to causes that are meaningful to you, register to vote. Participate in things that make you excited and passionate and especially be proud to be Jewish and be someone who doesn’t allow anti-Semitism or hate toward any minority or sex infest your campus.

There is a Jewish quote by Rabbi Noah Weinberg that reads ‘People often avoid making decisions out of fear of making a mistake. Actually, the failure to make decisions is one of life’s biggest mistakes.’ I know that each and every one of you has something amazing to give to the world, you just have to be brave enough to give it. So be fearless Class of 2018. Congratulations on the past four years and good luck to the future.”

Noa Spero is a graduate of Kohelet Yeshivea High School in Merion Station, Pa. Noa is headed to Midreshet HaRova in Israel and then will go on to attend the University of Pennsylvania.

“When I entered high school, there was so much I believed I could not do. I thought that math was something impossible I’d never be able to conquer. I thought I didn’t deserve to be in honors classes. I thought I couldn’t speak in front of anyone and that I was destined to be average. But in four years, I learned so much about myself. I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to. I can perform in front of others, I can thrive in math, I can even become salutatorian of my class and go on to the University of Pennsylvania. There is so much fear in starting something new, and I was sure high school was this insurmountable event, but that’s not true at all. As hard as it is, it is a time of immense growth, discovery and ability to conquer the seemingly unconquerable. If I were to give advice to an incoming freshman or underclassmen, it would be to keep your eyes on your own lane, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing (I know, easier said than done), and don’t let your age or anyone else define your capabilities.”

Atara Neugroschl is a graduate of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck, N.J. Atara will be studying at Migdal Oz in Israel next year and then plans to attend Yeshiva University.

“When thinking about the Class of 2018, I see the concept of individuality prominently. Our grade is comprised of the most talented, compassionate, dedicated people I know, with each person making her unique mark on the Ma’ayanot community. Yet, when thinking about my peers and our grade dynamic, another seemingly contradictory idea comes to mind. I think about the phrase ‘ki eish achad beleiv achad’ (Like one person with one heart). We first began using this phrase in Freshman year, when including it in the lyrics of our grade’s color war song. Since then, we have sung the lyrics countless times, with each repetition ringing more and more true. This phrase has become our mantra, as it truly embodies the essence of our grade. We are a united group. We share in each other’s victories and stand by one another through our hard times. With each trip, event, and activity, we have become closer. We work cohesively and collectively and have become a family, with each member proud of her place in the group.

However, these two concepts, of individuality and community, are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they work in harmony. Our individual talents allow us to work together as a unit. Our differences balance and enhance one another. The diversity of skills creates a well-rounded community, suited to overcome any challenge. And it is precisely our differences that allow us to unite as a group. At each display of individuality and talent, from Heartbeats to sports game to academic competitions, we all support and encourage one another. Whether it be by standing in the audience or texting fervently in the grade group chat to receive an update on the score, we celebrate and embrace one another. Instead of being envious of others abilities, we are helpful, supportive, and loving. We recognize that we are each like our own individual instrument, beautiful in its own right, but enhanced when merged to form a symphony. Together, we are a whole. Together, we are “ki eish achad beleiv achad”.

To the class of 2018, I have been enriched by knowing each of you and being a part of this group. Each of you has inspired me and changed me in a different way and I am forever grateful to be a member of this family. You have taught me to be confident, to embrace life, and that maybe, just maybe I no longer need my mom to be making my lunch. And now, as we move out of Ma’ayanot and on to the next steps ahead, always remember your unique talents and abilities. Follow your passions and trust your voice. You fill a specific role in your community. Use your skills to enhance the world around you. Use your ‘zelem Elokim” to create. And by being your individual self, you can help build a vibrant and diverse community. You can help build an “eish achad beleiv achad.’”

Claire Lessler is a graduate of Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn. She will attend Princeton University in the fall. 

“Throughout my four years in high school, I’ve always found Gemara to be more intriguing and engaging than my other Judaic studies (shoutout to my gemara teachers). Multiple times in the gemara, the text differentiates between a ‘gadol’—a grown-up—and a ‘katan’—a child. Generally, the ‘gadol’ shoulders many more responsibilities than the ‘katan’ does. For example, a man or woman may read Megillat Esther for others, but, according to Masechet Megillah, a ‘katan’ cannot. Although we were never true ‘ketanim’ when we began high school, there is a much wider, more encompassing message to be found in the gemara: as we grow, we take on more responsibilities. Now that we’ve graduated high school, we’ve finally earned the right to call ourselves ‘gedolim.’ Most of us have driver’s licenses and have worked jobs. Next year, we’ll be able to vote in elections.

In order to become ‘gedolim,’ we’ve had to overcome numerous challenges and obstacles over the course of these four years. These experiences have helped us become older, more confident, more able.

We didn’t just grow academically; we grew as people. In freshman year, we were quieter, more reserved. We shied away from trying new things and only tentatively expressed our budding opinions.

Finally, after four years of high school, we can call ourselves ‘gedolim.’”

Editor’s Note: Above is a translation of part of Claire’s commencement speech. Below please find the full Hebrew version.  

ברוכים הבאים לכולם: למורים, להורים ולתלמידים.

                       במשך ארבע שנות התיכון, תמיד אהבתי גמרא יותר מכל שאר לימודי הקודש שלי

(shoutout to my gemara teachers). פעמים רבות בגמרא, מפרידים בין גדול לקטן. בדרך כלל, יש לגדול הרבה יותר אחריות ממה שיש לקטן. למשל, איש או אשה יכולים לקרוא את מגילת אסתר לאחרים, אבל, לפי מסכת מגילה, קטן לא יכול לעשות כך. אף על פי שלא היינו באמת “קטנים” כשהתחלנו את הלימודים בתיכון, יש בגמרא מסר רחב יותר: כשאנחנו גדלים, אנו לוקחים על עצמנו יותר אחריות. עכשיו שגמרנו את התיכון, אנחנו באמת “גדולים”. יש להרבה מאתנו רישיונות נהיגה

(driver’s licenses). אנו יכולים לעבד ולקבל תשלום. בשנה הבאה, נוכל גם להצביע בבחירות

(to vote in elections).

כדי להיות גדולים, היינו צריכים לעבר שלבים שונים ואתגרים רבים במשך השנים האלו. החויות האלו (these experiences) עזרו לנו להיות גדולים ומוכשרים יותר. עבדנו קשה כדי לקבל על עצמנו את האחריות הזאת. שרדנו (we survived) את ארבע שנות התיכון, ושנים אלו היו… מעניינות. היו עליות וירידות, יתרונות וחסרונות. היה לנו החודש הראשון והמרגש של השנה הראשונה של התיכון, אבל גם היו לנו סוף השנה השלישית והתחלת השנה האחרונה, שהיו קשות כמו גיהינום. נהנינו בחופשות ובסמינרים שלנו, אבל גם סבלנו בלילות שבהם למדנו לבחינות עד שתים בבקר. עשינו פרויקטים ומבחנים בקלות, אבל גם כן למדנו את ההגדרה האמיתית של “multiple guess” במבחנים אחרים. [כשלא יודעים את התשובה, התשובה היא תמיד “C”].

גדלנו כבני אדם במשך שנים אלו. בשנה הראשונה של התיכון, היינו שקטים וביישנים יותר. פחדנו לנסות דברים חדשים ולהביע את דעותינו (to express our opinions). השתתפנו בשיחות באמצע המדרגות או באמצע המסדרונות בין השיעורים שלנו. תמיד הגענו למנין בזמן

(Throwback to when minyan was 7:10).

גם כן גדלנו באופן פיזי. אני, למשל, גדלתי בשבעה סנטימטרים…

(In English, that’s about 2.75 inches- and yes, I did take the time to calculate this).

עכשיו, אני יכולה להגיע למדפים העליונים בספריה- אם אני קופצת, כמובן.

סוף כל סוף, אחרי ארבע שנים של התיכון, אנו יכולים לקרוא לעצמינו “גדולים”.

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