Parents, grandparents, educators, the great class of 2017. I am so honored to be here.
Some professors ominously tell their students “look to the right, look to the left. By the end of the semester one of you will have dropped out.” What I can say today is “look to your left, look to your right, you are sitting next to the people who will walk you down the aisle at your weddings, hold your hands when you need it, and be your lifelong friends.”
One of my favorite JDS memories was in 2004 when the seniors took over the loudspeaker, and proceeded to give away the ending to every book on the English curriculum. Spoiler alert: Romeo and Juliet--dead. Gatsby--dead. Oh, and don’t even get me started on “Of Mice and Men.”
I remember expecting school to just be over--I mean after all, we already knew the endings, so what was the point? But it turns out that the stories don’t end on the final pages of the books.
At JDS we learned that “to be or not to be” is not the only question, and that we do indeed “continually beat on as boats against the current.”
Today I stand before you, not as someone who has completed any story, but as someone engaged in building on an existing one. At JDS we studied Emma Lazarus, the poet and advocate. We learnt that her call to “give me your tired, your poor,” is not actually about refugees. It is about America. Emma envisioned an America where, what makes us great, what defines us, is our ability to welcome in the stranger.
Emma died in 1887, but the words she wrote remain forever engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Pursuing her goals has become my story. A year ago, I created Emma’s Torch, a nonprofit that empowers refugees through culinary training. 150 years after Emma fought for refugees, I have the honor to work with the newest members of our community and help equip them with vocational skills and jobs, in the culinary world. When I graduated nine years ago, I never imagined that this would be my journey. This ongoing adventure is far from finished, but I know that at every turn the JDS community will continue to be my compass.
But today is in fact not about me. It is about you, and the stories you will pursue. I look at you today, and I see writers, scientists, advocates, and entrepreneurs. I see mensches ready to take on the world.
So, I urge you to pursue those stories as you go off to college and beyond. To realize that E=MC^2 is not the theory of everything, but just another clue in the endless puzzle that is our universe. That “Lech Lecha” is the imperative to pursue a lifetime of meaning and purpose. That when you read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, you realize we are not there yet, and that we have an obligation to fight “until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Your stories have endings that cannot be shared over the loudspeaker. They have journeys that at times will twist and turn as a driven leaf. Yet, to paraphrase William Ernest Henley, “you are the masters of your fates, you are the captains of your souls.”
Go pursue your incredible stories! Mazal tov!