Atlanta Jewish Academy sent the 22 members of the Upper School Class of 2018 into the world with a mission to be humble leaders living in the moment and reveling in their Jewish identity.
“Let out your inner crazy. … Maybe, just maybe, mix your crazy with some courage,” a combination that drove Martin Luther King Jr. to march, Golda Meir to rise to Israeli prime minister and the Israel Defense Forces to liberate the Temple Mount, AJA valedictorian Maayan Schoen told her classmates at the graduation ceremony Wednesday, May 30.
“Find your truth and your courage, add in a little bit of crazy, and live it in each moment. Take a breath and enjoy it,” Schoen said.
The Class of 2018 was the first to finish high school at AJA’s unified campus in Sandy Springs after entering ninth grade at the former Yeshiva Atlanta building in Doraville. On their path to yeshiva, seminary, college or the IDF, the 22 faced construction and change at school and, as Schoen noted, “too much going on in the world,” from school shootings and hurricanes to political controversies and the uproar over the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem.
Through it all, the class has thrived, said the head of school, Rabbi Ari Leubitz. “You are high-achieving as they come. You have earned your way into the top schools in this country and in Eretz Yisrael. You have chosen to serve and to protect our people by joining the IDF. You have been awarded tremendous scholarship money for a class this size. And with all the change, you have led our school. You have kept our unique spirit alive and well. And most of all, you have done all this with grace, kindness and, most importantly, anavah,” or humility.
Alan Minsk, who is the president of the AJA board and said he found his voice as a member of the Yeshiva Atlanta Class of 1985 and the student council president, emphasized the spirit of the school and the strength it draws from the challenge of being small.
“You cannot go to this place and be devoid of passion for Torah, Judaism and Israel,” he said. “AJA and your parents have given you the tools to be successful, to help you develop your identity, to teach you a sense of purpose and respect for others and for yourself.”
In a commencement speech full of pithy lessons such as “Live your life in the moment and not watching the moment; memories are so much more meaningful when you are a part of them and not apart from them,” English teacher John Wilson said, “We permit students to feel safe when they fail, to learn from their mistakes, to lead their peers and to mature into their own Jewish identities.”
Wilson, who heads the Upper School leadership team, also urged the graduates to be leaders, not followers.
The two students delivering the d’var Torah, Deborah Broyde and Nate Linsider, focused on leadership and Judaism’s emphasis on influence over power. They related their class and their parents to four categories of leaders found in Scripture: classic (typified by Moses), underdog (David), behind the scenes (Deborah) and unknown (Ruth).
It was perhaps no coincidence that women were the exemplars of the two subtler forms of leadership. Salutatorian Nicole Dori recalled that a teacher once told her that as a Jew and a girl, she “would be shoved down twice as hard as anybody and … would have to work three times as hard to get back up.”
That comment drove her, Dori said, and she called on her classmates to similarly choose personal growth over self-pity as they find their own voices in the world.
She also had a message for the crowd in the packed AJA auditorium: “This is one class you’ll never stop hearing.”
AJA Upper School Class of 2018
The following are the 22 high school seniors who graduated from Atlanta Jewish Academy on Wednesday, May 30.
Naomi Shira Alsberg
Leah Raizel Bader
Deborah Malka Broyde
Alexandri Jacob Cohen
Aharon Tzvi Eidex
Aviva Pesha Fine
Samuel Avroham Frankel
Jillian Rachel Gerson
Jonathan Mayer Linsider
Joshua Eli Mermelstein
Benjamin William Ogden
Maayan Leah Schoen
Nittai Shlomo Shiff
Ariel Leah Sirota