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Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes


Graduation Speech 2016

This is the transcript of the speech from our 8th grade graduation:

Preparing the commencement speech each year is one of my most daunting tasks – how to capture the essence of each of you while saying something inspiring and different from the previous years. The redeeming factor in this stress, is that as I pace around my house trying to think about how to frame this address, I got to rack up more steps on my Fitbit. Thank you for that…

I really wanted to say something about your energy, your earnestness and your humor – that great senior prank…but I settled on saying something about your portfolios – because they so clearly reflect your personalities, while they also serve as a summary of two distinguishing features of a Wornick education.

Last week, you presented your portfolios to an audience of your parents and staff. Each portfolio contained samples of your work in Language Arts from the past three years. You were charged with selecting the pieces that you were most proud of. For each section, you wrote a rationale of the selected item which essentially was a reflection gauging how the selected work displayed your growth as a writer. As I worked my way through each of your portfolios there were a few things that stood out for me: First, you engaged so many profound social issues in your writing. Second, you were incredibly self-aware as you critiqued your own work. These two qualities – serious engagement in social issues and self-reflection – are distinguishing features of a Wornick education that will carry you well into the future.

Daria’s poem “White Girls” focused on questions of gender, race and personal identity as you wrestled with the term ‘white girl’. Talia took on the stereotyping of LGBTQ characters in video games. Nikolas wrote about the “horrors of War”, Anabelle about the tragedy at Tawonga two summers ago, while Leah summed up the experience of writing about dark subjects as a way to express in a creative way these difficult subjects. One of the sentences from Julia’s work: “I want to be somewhere greater than an average day”, references camp as you also spoke about the liberation of using creativity to express such feelings. Leah, you were proud of developing your own vocabulary to consider the topic of justice – your essay spoke of social eco-systems and the selfish vs. selfless pursuit of justice. Lea wrote about “the things that keep us down…” and optimistically, courageously concluded “I am the one who has the power to choose.”

Some of you expressed your passions in different ways – there were those of you who really enjoy comics and took the opportunity to write a comic magazine and then selected it as your favorite piece of writing. Jacob, you used Marvel Comics as a prototype… and even included a photo of yourself in front of a Marvel Comic store in Israel. Gabriel used a comic book format for comparing comic heroes and how comics address social issues. You were both completely engaged in these projects and told me that you were sure that readers would be similarly engaged by this format.

Then there were the writers whose recurrent themes were athletics. Jordan you noted in your analysis of the essay answering the question “Should your son play multiple sports?” that this as an example of using critical thinking – multiple perspectives in particular. You noted that in the past you would have just listed a few facts to make your point. Simon answered the question “Who is the best player in the NFL?” You were most enthusiastic about a quote from an athlete – that winning rests on “the emotion that you bring to the game.” Basketball was a recurrent theme in Ben’s writing. You wrote that you were proud of your use of metaphors in your slam poetry piece entitled “The last 4 seconds of a game”. Reading the verse, “Like a beggar reaching for the money – he wants food and I want this win”, I would agree with your assessment. Blake, you talked about conveying in writing the fear and the challenge of your first attempt at skiing a double-black diamond trail – tapping that experience was the impetus for writing a convincing essay.

Nathan wrote a magazine with a focus on hockey. The subject matter was not a surprise, to me…but how you analyzed your work was: You noted that you used engaging and reliable data to support your contentions and to tell a story…the honesty in that statement is profound. We have political candidates currently who can’t seem to get that right – engaging and reliable data.

And Jason was the lone writer where animal themes informed most of his work.

All of you offered interesting and thoughtful critiques of your own writing. Some of you focused on techniques and strategies that you became aware of, and that you proudly pointed to in your work. Molly, you commented about enjoying writing the rationales for your curated writing pieces. You noted the progressive clarity of your voice as your writing matured and you also showed how you had learned to “know your audience.” Jonathan referenced the Tzedakah essay because of both the length of the piece and how it improved over time. Noah wrote about “the challenge of writing a speech from someone else’s perspective” in your Marco Polo speech. Louis wrote about the editing and the practicing that took place for the debate about “buses running on Shabbat.” Ethan, you wrote about your growth in your abilities to analyze and to efficiently locate and use research to support a point of view in a timed writing assignment. Sam, you most enjoyed working on essays because they forced you to think critically. Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers” was a pivotal piece for Sam. Adam, you wrote an interesting rationale for your 6th grade/revisited 8th grade piece about the book Wonder. You commented on how you needed to deconstruct and reconstruct the entire piece, and how your sentence fluency improved in the process. Benji’s series of rationales demonstrate a progressive recognition of how the process of finding artifacts and reviewing them opened up new understandings. In particular, your Think Tank piece about Russian Jews in Israel showed your growing ability to use evidence and direct quotations to write persuasively.

I want each of you to think about this portfolio experience and the writing process that you analyzed as the paradigm for your life going forward:

  • Remember to look back – to consider where you came from and what you began with, so you can see how far you have come.
  • Reflect honestly about what you’ve accomplished and ask yourself about what you still need to do.
  • Remember to edit – get to the essence of life, let go of the extraneous.
  • Put your ideas out for public feedback – allow yourself that vulnerability and trust in others to help you become your better self.

Finally, I’d like to connect the words that you will hear from Ms. K to the transformations that were apparent in your portfolios. Ms. K. will reference the B’nei Yisrael, leaving Egypt…leaving slavery. Leaving Egypt was a change; leaving slavery was transformational. Leaving Wornick is a change, becoming independent and responsible for your destiny is transformational. Change without transformation is just re-arranging of the furniture – the foundational problems of our lives stay the same, and we keep experiencing the same problems over and over again. Change with transformation creates a new reality. The hard internal work that helps you see the world and people who surround you in new ways, or that shines a light on the work that you have produced: that’s transformation. Go forward and whenever you face a change, tap that uncomfortable, awesome wilderness moment of reflection that you shared with us in your writing...let it lead you to transformation.

Hatzlachah rabbah. Congratulations to you and your parents, and thank you parents for sharing your children with us.

Dr. Barbara Gereboff

Posted by dizenson on Friday June, 10, 2016

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