As we do every year, we tinker around with the graduation program to find the right balance between seriousness and levity, celebration and recognition, graduates and graduate families, students and adults. In order to cut down on the number of formal speeches (how much advice can graduating seniors absorb at once?), I decided to roll my remarks into the presentation of the awards. I think that it worked much better for the program, even though it meant many fewer remarks by me (probably a good thing on its own.)
To introduce the awards, I chose to spend a minute talking about the whole idea of presenting awards at graduation:
There is a famous line about graduations that describes them as a ceremony where the speakers tell dozens of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that the key to their success is…individuality.
Jokes aside, I think there is a good reason that you are all together up here on the stage, graduating as a group, as a class, not as a bunch of separate individuals. The fifty-two of you grew up together, in some cases for just the last couple of years and in some cases, for more than fifteen years. Graduating as individuals implies that you passed a prescribed course of study and are prepared to leave. Graduating as a class demonstrates that your education at the Academy goes well beyond the acquisition of knowledge and academic skills.
You have all been shaped, in a deep and fundamental way, by the others around you on the stage tonight, the Class of 2012, and as you embark on your future endeavors, you will carry with you not just an identity as an alum of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, but more specifically, an identity as a member of this wonderful, thoughtful, interesting, curious and delightful group of young Jewish men and women.
So…if you are graduating collectively, much more as a class than as individuals, why am I standing here about to single out a few of you for awards?
That’s an excellent question.
Groups can be raised and inspired by leaders to heights and achievements that go beyond what the individuals would or could do themselves. In this respect, those of you who have excelled, whether in the classroom, in shul or in the community, have helped to elevate the rest of you and it is this achievement that we would like to recognize tonight with four special awards.
The first award is the Rabbi Moshe H. Levinson Memorial Award for Excellence in General Studies. Born in Jerusalem in 1898, Rabbi Levinson moved to the Greater Washington area in 1934 and keyed the growth of the Jewish community. A visionary leader, Rabbi Levinson recognized the crucial need for a Jewish day school in order to sustain the community and allow it to thrive. He worked tirelessly with others to found the Hebrew Academy in 1944. Rabbi Levinson served as the Academy’s first President and the Upper School proudly bears his name.
The winners of the 2012 Rabbi Moshe H. Levinson Award for Excellence in General Studies are:
- Cobi Rabinowitz
- Gedaliah Knizhnik
The Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz Memorial Award for Excellence in Limudei Kodesh recognizes the rav and spiritual leader of the Kesher Israel Synagogue from 1950-1984. During that time, Rabbi Rabinowitz guided Kesher through its many stages of growth and made an indelible impression upon hundreds of members, visitors and local dignitaries. We are very pleased that Rabbi Rabinowitz’s many good works are remembered through the Kollel Beit Midrash, which bears his name, and through this award.
The 2012 winners of the Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz Memorial Award for Excellence in Limudei Kodesh are:
- Leora Raskas
- Rena Gluck
The Rabbi William and Elaine Millen Award for Excellence in Chesed and Community Service recognizes a couple that has greatly impacted hundreds of students during their years of administration and teaching at the Hebrew Academy. Rabbi and Mrs. Millen are outstanding educators who serve as religious role models for our community. Rabbi Millen continues to inspire our Middle School students by davening in their minyan almost every day. This award for chessed and community service is a very fitting way to honor the Millens.
This year’s winner of the Rabbi William and Elaine Millen Award for Excellence in Chessed and Community Service goes to:
- Sara Trombka
(The last award was the Van Hollen Public Service Award for Outstanding Community Service, presented by Sara Rosen from Congressman Van Hollen’s office. The award went to Nathan Weissler from Sulam. He was completely surprised by the award and touched by the standing ovation given to him by his classmates of the last four years, who stood in recognition not just of the incredible amount of community service done by Nathan during this time, but also of Nathan’s ability to persevere and even thrive despite some personal challenges. For many, this moment was the highlight of the graduation.)