Every year, signs appear celebrating that year’s graduation class. Congratulations Class of 2016! Every year, graduation speakers exhort students to be confident, to be humble, to be resourceful, to be resilient, to care about others, to take care of themselves, to be of service, and to take life by the horns. Every year, graduates try to outdo each other in creative costumes, signs, pranks, and self-promotion. Every year, in many ways, is the same as any other year.
While the rest of us may not feel that this class is especially unique in the history of graduations, to every graduate and their parents, this is a special year. Graduation represents a turning point in the life of students. Each graduate recognizes that this day represents their hard work, their ingenuity, their perseverance. Many acknowledge that graduation was made possible by the support of those who paid the bills, those who stuck with them through hard times, the teachers, the friends, the employers, and everyone who believed in them.
Graduation is also a milestone for parents as we experience yet another manifestation of the process of letting go that began when the infant emerged from the womb as a separate, independent human being.
We celebrate the uniqueness of every baby born, every child who ascends to the bimah in honor of becoming bar or bat mitzvah, every couple who publicly concretizes their loving partnership in the marriage ceremony, and every individual who leaves this earth. These events are essential to marking our individual identity even as they stamp us as part of a larger community through traditional rituals.
As a synagogue community, we want to honor and congratulate the students and their families who have reached this milestone. This is not an inconsequential event and the efforts that lead up to graduation are not to be minimized.
Therefore, we encourage every family anticipating an upcoming graduation from high school, college, graduate school or any other kind of certification or completion to contact the rabbi with the information about what they have completed and where they will be going (if that’s known).
I’m particularly attuned to the emotions surrounding graduation as both of our children will be receiving diplomas in the coming weeks. This Shabbat I will be in Philadelphia, celebrating our son Yonah’s graduation from Temple University on Friday. In June, Brian and I will be in Chicago, celebrating our daughter Aviva’s graduation from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Public Policy. We feel so blessed by our children. We are proud to watch them move on to new endeavors and thrilled to see them living their passions.
Graduation is more than the completion of a set of class requirements. It represents new-found skills, honed for hours through study and practice. It demonstrates a new level of maturity and wisdom, shaped by facing a host of emotional, intellectual, financial, and physical demands. Even when our students rise among a sea of hundreds or thousands of other graduates, their unique experience deserves recognition.
Congratulations to our graduates and to their families. We send our admiration and best wishes as you prepare for the road ahead. Hazak hazak venit-chazek—be strong and be strengthened as you reach this milestone!*
*This is the phrase the congregation recites in the synagogue when we complete one of the Five Books of the Torah.