Congratulating the Class of 2024

Congratulating the Class of 2024

July 10, 2024

Dear Grade 8 Graduates,

מזל טוב on your wonderful achievements! You have distinguished yourselves in the realms of academics, athletics, and the arts, and you should be so proud of all you have accomplished. I am sure there will be many more accolades as you work your way through high school and beyond.

Back when I was your age, I never had a Grade 8 graduation, but when I graduated from high school and then college, I remember speakers apologizing for the sorry state of the world, and expressing hope that we, the new young generation, would be able to make things better. It was a nice sentiment, but I’m afraid it did not come to fruition. The world is still mired in conflicts and crises of one type or another. So, like the generations before me, I need to apologize to you for the mess you are inheriting.

Indeed, in the Jewish world alone, your Grade 8 year has been marred by the terrible October 7 terrorist attack in Israel followed by a war that has claimed the lives of so many. Hamas continues to hold scores of Israelis hostage, and hostilities with Hezbollah mean that thousands cannot return to their homes in Israel’s north. And on top of all that, we see expressions of antisemitism spreading here at home and around the world. And it’s not as if the rest of the world provides too many uplifting examples either. So dear graduates, I’m sorry — I’m sorry that we haven’t managed to bring you up in a better, kinder world. And I’m sorry that we must now pass so many tough challenges on to you as you mature and enter into adulthood.

And yet, I think it’s quite possible that you will do better than my generation has in addressing the tough challenges our world faces, and in achieving true Tikkun Olam. My optimism is based on three key elements of the Bialik education that I believe you have internalized.

The first is critical thinking. Many of the biggest issues our world faces today — global warming, struggling international economic systems, political conflicts and wars, the proper parameters of artificial intelligence — are highly complex in nature. And, while some people would like to reduce them to simple sets of beliefs or assertions, the reality is that the world’s toughest problems are hard to fully understand. The only way to truly wrap your head around them is to ask questions and carefully synthesize the many different perspectives of each issue. It’s not easy, and it takes time! So I implore you: Read. Stay curious. Beware of easy answers. You’ve learned how to be critical thinkers at Bialik; you now only need apply the same skills to the world around you.

The second skill that I am certain will stand you in good stead is tenacity or grit. For decades, Bialik grads have returned to tell us that they had a relatively easy time adjusting to formidable high-school workloads because of their experience with the dual curriculum and multiple languages in the Bialik program. In life, as in academics, sports, the arts, and so on, the results that are most meaningful and worthwhile are the ones worth striving for. You have worked hard to get to this point, and I know that you won’t shy away from the challenges that lie ahead.

But perhaps it is the third trait that I have in mind — your strong Canadian, Jewish and Zionist identities, honed over the years at Bialik — that leaves me most optimistic about the impact you will have. A global landscape of complexity calls for varied and nuanced perspectives that have been cultivated by learning from many sources. In a world that seems to have lost its way, the need for people who approach predicaments with passion and act from a foundation of strong values, is essential.

At Bialik you have been imbued with a deep understanding of Jewish culture, history and Menschlechkeit, and a commitment to Zionism and to the health of a sustainable Jewish homeland. And this you have learned as young Canadians, proud of the humanist and democratic values for which this country stands. Most importantly, you are the inheritors of vital elements of the Jewish ethos, such as truth, compassion for those less fortunate, basic honesty and fairness in our interactions with others, and a responsibility to improve the human condition. These will inform how you see, and make your way in, the world.

For centuries now, Jews have been enriching the world through our contributions to science, literature, music, philosophy, and on and on. And the modern State of Israel has continued to give so much in these same areas. Soon, it will be your turn. Despite the hurdles that seem to be out there, I am confident that you — Bialik’s Class of 2024 — will bring about change for good, close to home and perhaps far beyond as well.

So as dark as the world can seem at times, your youth, your energy, your values, and the wonderful mensches you have become fill me with optimism, and are the source of tremendous pride for everyone in this room and those watching on the live stream.

The phrase עם ישראל חי is one that we’ve used a lot lately to express our confidence that — as we have throughout our history — we will persevere, get through these tough times, and come out stronger for it. You, graduates, epitomize that confidence…that strength…that optimism. You are the עם ישראל in עם ישראל חי.

So “no pressure,” but go out and change the world. Apply all that you have learned at Bialik and all that you have become to leave your mark. We know you will be great!

מזל טוב to everyone.

!עם ישראל חי

Benjy Cohen
Head of School