Rashi celebrated the graduation of our Grade 8 students, welcoming them into the Rashi alumni family. A little rain, clouds, thunderstorms, and social distancing did not stop graduation from being a day to remember for our graduates and their families.
Our students met this year’s changes and disappointments with maturity, finding joy and community in this moment however strange and different it was from all of our expectations.
We honored our Grade 8 students with a part in-person/part online ceremony. Graduates received a box of personalized gifts and their diploma from our Head of School Adam W. Fischer, Rabbi Sharon Clevenger and Acting Head of Middle School Beth Brown. DJ Mike Finke playing music spanning the 80’s to today to keep us all energized and excited as the families of Grade 8 students drove up to the Rashi School.
Mr. Fischer boogeyed to each car with handing each graduate their diploma through the window, while Rabbi Clevenger and Ms. Brown delivered a lawn sign and box of special messages and gifts to each graduate.
Students and their families gathered, from a social distance, in the Rashi school parking lot, while we said the shehecheyanu prayer, marking a special or momentous occasion, which this graduation certainly was.
Later in the evening, we held a virtual ceremony, honoring the hard work of each student to reach this momentous day.
Here’s what Rabbi Clevenger had to say in her weekly Shabbat message:
I write to you with tears in my eyes. It is 8:18 PM on Thursday and I have just finished the magnificent Zoom graduation ceremony for the Rashi class of 5780. Earlier this afternoon, the entire eighth grade gathered in the school parking lot after collecting their diplomas and various artifacts from their time at Rashi. After exiting their cars, they stood together, with parents behind them and Rashi faculty around them, and they felt pride and joy and love. Both experiences were truly as good as they could possibly be, and I think even better than anyone expected they would be. Tonight’s ceremony ended with the promise of being together again.
I’ve been talking with friends who are fellow-Rashi parents, and we all agree that no school has done online learning better than Rashi. Our kids have learned and grown and been nurtured by our endlessly loving, patient and driven teachers, administrators and parents. And yet…We also recognize that this year has been one of missing pieces. And so, in my final message of the 5780 school year, it feels important to acknowledge that loss, and to find an optimistic path forward.
This week’s Torah portion, B’ha’alot’kha, offers a bit of guidance for us. It focuses largely on ritual life as the Israelites get settled into the unsettling process of wandering through the wilderness en route to the Promised Land. In Bemidbar (Numbers) chapter 9, Moses reminds the Israelites of their obligation to celebrate Pesach. The Torah mandates that people who are ritually impure because they have participated in a funeral may not celebrate Pesach. Upset, those who would miss out complained to Moses, and God decreed that they can celebrate Pesach one month later, when they are once again pure. Matzah in May is better than no matzah at all, even if it’s not the same. The truth in this short text rings clear for us — just because you can’t have it now doesn’t mean you can’t have it ever.
We must remember that many of the losses that we currently feel are temporary. Our kids will catch up on their skills in the years ahead. They will reconnect with their classmates and friends, and basically pick up where they left off, because kids are amazing like that! Next year, God willing, they will again run from the building on the last day of school, ready for the glories of summer. B’nei mitzvot will be postponed, not cancelled, as will weddings and other celebrations. We will all celebrate another graduation day in the future, and so forth and so on. The struggles will never be forgotten, but the pain will fade.
We must also remember that there are people for whom the pain will not fade. There are those who have lost loved ones and friends to the virus. Those facing unemployment and serious questions about their financial futures because of the virus. There are the righteous folks who have been beaten and tear gassed at protests against the racial inequities that plague our country. There are the folks who live with racial and other biases every day of their lives. I could go on, but I do not need to.
Today’s adapted graduation, like Matzah in May, reminds us to accept our (relatively small) losses and count our blessings. There is always time, room and reason for gratitude, and celebration comes in many forms. When we planned the graduation parade, we hoped that the students would exit their vehicles in the parking lot, but expected them to stand at their cars and look upon one another from afar. What happened was the most beautiful opposite: with masks on at all times, and without physical contact, the eighth graders were drawn together. Face to face, they reconnected, as did their parents and teachers, and only left, begrudgingly, when we heard the first crack of thunder (MIRACULOUSLY, not a drop of rain fell on us). It was a display of extraordinary resilience, and making the best and most of every opportunity. Not even our masks could obscure our smiles.
Mazal tov to each of you, you make us proud!