Forty-five seniors entered the ranks of Maimonides School alumni Sunday morning as hundreds of family members, teachers and friends joined in the celebration of the school's 64th commencement.
Judge J. John Fox Gymnasium was replete with the energy, fulfillment and "mazel-tovs" unique to graduation.
The spotlight was on student speakers. Noah Avigan delivered his address in Hebrew, which is the tradition at Maimonides for the class valedictorian. "A combination of care and acceptance breeds a deep and special sense of comfort that exists at Maimonides," his translation read. "The close friendships we formed here did not mask individuality; they valued and fostered it."
"The supportive environment at Maimonides enabled us both to grow as individuals and as a group with a distinct identity," the translation continued. "This institution has guided us through a personal process, allowing us to begin understanding who we are and what we care about."
Ezra Zimble, in his English address, asked whether Judaism has a model for what commencement is. He cited verses near the beginning of the Book of Ezekiel in which G-d instructs the prophet to consume a scroll, symbolically internalizing His teachings.
Maimonides seniors are internalizing their particular scroll, he said, including the school's special history and values, as well as the unique quality of the Class of 2016. "Each one of us has a lot to be proud of and has learned valuable life lessons," he declared. "We have the ability to change the world for the better."
The annual tradition of reading excerpts from the works of Maimonides was augmented this year by a siyum marking the completion of the Talmud Tractate Megillah by the students.
Moshe Saltzman, Margalit Mitzner and Joshua Eibelman read passages from the Rambam's Mishnah Torah focusing on the importance of Talmud Torah, followed by Aviva Rosen and Jonathon Cohen reciting the traditional prayers marking the siyum.
In his opening remarks, Rabbi Dov Huff '00, interim principal for Judaic studies, told the graduates, "You are uniquely positive as a grade and greatly talented as individuals. The world needs your individual talents. It is often cynical, and it needs your cheer. It is often visionless, and it needs your leadership. The real world is often uninspired -- it needs your Torah."
Rabbi Huff noted the transitional nature of commencement -- "you are both looking back and looking forward. This existence was a beautiful one, one that shaped you, formed you, challenged and inspired you. You are on the cusp of stepping out into the world and using the practice and preparation you gained within these walls to carve out your place there."
Scott Mattoon, general studies principal, enumerated a number of character traits "that individually and collectively contribute positively to humanity and to society." He charged the graduates with "contemplating how you can marry the traits of your best selves as you are with other traits while you are in a state of becoming your best selves."
"Never forget that regardless of how your life expands and changes, your best self is always ready, and it is also always becoming better. And cultivating your best self is for your benefit, and for the benefit of the larger group in which you find yourselves."
Representing the Board of Directors, Steven Schwartz encouraged the graduates to "have a sense of hakarat hatov, gratitude. Be grateful for the deep and abiding friendships you've made. Be grateful for the commitment of the rabbis, teachers and principals who have done their best not only to impart knowledge but also to inculcate in you a sense of honesty, integrity and menschlikeit that are the hallmarks of our community."
Before introducing Mr. Schwartz, Head of School Nathan Katz '73 addressed the families and friends of the graduates. "As Maimonides nears the 80th anniversary of its founding, we want to thank you for the privilege of educating your children," he said. "Your children, and all of you, will always be part of the Maimonides family, and we hope that you will continue to add your strength to our school community."