Dear graduates, families, rabbaim, faculty, administrators, and friends, this is an exciting evening, and celebrates a significant milestone in your life. Thank you for letting me share it with you.
My name is Ian Ratner, I am the President of the Board of Trustees of the Atlanta Jewish Academy, and I love this school.
I have been blessed to have three children graduate from AJA Lower School, just like these fine young adults here tonight; and one who will be on this stage, G-d willing, next year, on June 1st, 2016. (Yes, there will be a Grade 8 graduation next year). Two of my children have also graduated the Upper School, and one is a rising 11th grader.
As you see, Carol and I have partnered with AJA on raising our children, and we have not been disappointed.
I have served on countless committees, been on and off the Board a few times, and was once president of the school during a hard time. I hold the record as the worst Middle School girls basketball coach ever. And, like you, I have invested significant financial resources here.
There is a certain special chemistry that goes on within the walls of this school. It is:
- part Jewish education,
- part Zionism and love of our heritage,
- part tefillah,
- part love and kindness from the extraordinary staff, from the nurse to Felice at the front door;
- part the amazing secular studies program, which is often underrated; and
- part great friends and community.
The combination results in a wonderful place to have your children mature and be nurtured during their formative years. The proof is sitting on the stage with me tonight.
Many of these fine young teens have grown up together:
- attended kindergarten together,
- celebrated Colonial Festival together,
- received their first siddur or chumash together,
- played Middle School sports together,
- attended each other’s bar and bat mitzvahs,
- traveled to Israel together, and
- taken leadership roles in the play and other extracurricular activities.
They sit here tonight, unified, and a shining example of hope for our future.
Many will stay on for high school at AJA Upper School. Others will start new chapters of their lives at other private and public schools in the area. One thing I know about these kids is that they are not afraid of change.
In Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4, in the very first Mishnah, Ben Zoma says, "Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” What does this mean?
The commentators tell us that someone who is wise can always learn, even from someone with less wisdom.
In other words, being wise is not being satisfied with the status quo, but knowing that every new interaction, every new situation brings opportunity for growth and improvement and, by definition, change.
We have all changed. None of us are the same people we were when we first walked into this building and dropped off our kids at pre-K or kindergarten. We are not the same as we were when we got married, or started our careers. Hopefully, we have grown and changed for the better.
This school, our cherished AJA, is also about change and growth.
The AJA Lower School and its predecessor, Greenfield Hebrew Academy, can have a transformative impact on our lives. In my own life, AJA has enhanced my relationship with G-d, my relationship with my family, and certainly, some of my strongest friendships have been built within these walls.
Our growth as a school and as an institution continues, as it has in the past.
In July 2014, the Boards of the former GHA and Yeshiva Atlanta voted to merge the schools, and we are rapidly completing our first year as the first infant through Grade 12 Jewish day school in Atlanta. We will become the centerpiece of Jewish education in Atlanta by having a fully integrated school, offering a serious Jewish and secular education on par with the top day schools in the country.
Change can be scary. Our ancestors went through more than their fair share,
- from being slaves in Egypt to relying on their faith to win their freedom,
- from wandering in the desert to conquering the Promised Land to building rich and diverse communities in Europe and other parts of the world;
- from surviving the unthinkable during the Holocaust to carving out a modern day state in Israel and a dynamic Jewish community in America.
Our forefathers were not scared of change; they embraced it and MADE THINGS HAPPEN. As long as they stayed close to their faith, belief in G-d, family, and community, they were able to change and grow successfully.
We must do the same. We can change and grow successfully as long as we stay close to our history and community—to the chemistry that I referred to earlier.
The young adults on this stage are not afraid of change. They are excited by it and ready to grow. We should be, too.
Our expansion and change will result in a state-of-the-art campus for all in the heart of Sandy Springs. Students in the Lower School who need more challenges will have the benefit of top high school teachers around the corner. An integrated curriculum will ensure a complete and thorough education, building on achievements from year to year. The energy and enthusiasm of teens singing, and dancing, and running Onegs for their brothers and sisters in the Lower School will echo in the corridors, adding excitement and vibrancy to the school. Enthusiastic cheering at sports events will ring through the halls. Excellent role models will be everywhere in sight. This educational model has been proven successful around the country, in both Jewish and non-Jewish private school environments.
It’s our turn!
- Change is exciting.
- Change is transformative.
- Change gives us the chance to grow, and expand our horizon, and reshape our destiny.
Just look at how your own child, sitting on this stage tonight, has changed and grown over the last few years.
Mazel tov, and have a wonderful evening.