The Big Question: AJA Upper School Graduation Address by Ian Ratner, President of the Board

Dear friends, rabbaim, teachers, administrators, parents, family members, guests and, of course, our graduates, welcome to you all.

My name is Ian Ratner, and I am the first president of the AJA Board of Trustees, and friend to many of you.

I am thrilled to be participating in the first graduation ceremony of the Atlanta Jewish Academy. You students spent the year at the Raymond Drive campus and although physically, things are only now starting to change, you are part of the foundation of a totally new school, a school that will soon become the centerpiece of serious Jewish and secular education in the Atlanta Jewish community. As the first nursery through 12th grade private Jewish day school in Atlanta, with a clear mission and vision, we are well on our way, and we have completed a phenomenal first year.

I meet young families all the time, and they wonder whether our school is the right choice for them—or even whether Jewish schools in general are the way to go. They consider all the different variables that young families focus on, such as:

  • the exact student/teacher ratio;

  • the exact number of minutes (or hours) of the Hebrew curriculum per day (or week);

  • the amount of time set aside for lunch (or recess);

  • whether recess is at the same time every day;

  • which math book the third grade teacher uses;

  • why the carpool line starts in this place or that;

  • whether their child will do the same projects that other kids in the same grade do in different classes;

  • and on and on and on…..

You know what I mean.

However, I often find myself daydreaming, focusing on the BIGGER QUESTION…and sometimes, depending on how I am feeling that particular day, I actually ask them that BIG QUESTION:

“How do you want your five or six year old to turn out when someday, he or she graduates high school?”

The response to my BIG QUESTION is often surprise—or, “I don’t know…I haven’t thought about it.”

From this night forward, I will go on to invite these parent or prospective parent to the next AJA Upper School graduation—like this very first one, TONIGHT. This is a much better strategy than responding to twenty different operational questions that, frankly, don’t even matter in the Big Picture.

Friends, tonight is the answer to the BIG QUESTION.

The program tonight includes detailed biographies for each graduate, and they are stunning. These graduates—like the many Yeshiva Atlanta graduating classes that came before and, G-d willing, the AJA graduating classes that will come in the future—are the answers to the BIG QUESTION.

The biographies paint a picture of well adjusted, knowledgeable young adults with high Jewish self esteem who are ready to take on the world as leaders in our communities, our businesses, our governments, and our world.

Members of the graduating class have been accepted to such fine universities as the University of Alabama, Barnard College, Boston University, Brandeis University, DePaul University, University of Georgia, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, Rutgers University, SUNY-Binghamton, Touro College, and Yeshiva University.

This year’s seniors have made an indelible mark on the school and on their own community.

Student Council was led by Samuel Kalnitz and Zoe Ogden, and I understand it was one of the most active student councils ever.

  • They brought in an ice cream truck;

  • took over community time and made it a real event;

  • ran an Instagram contest;

  • ran a contest to produce a new school fight song;

  • instituted "Jag Swag Days" every other Wednesday, when students could wear shirts with jaguars or other AJA logos on them;

  • and the list goes on and on.

Seniors were also instrumental in:

  • Chagiga;

  • the spring play, “The Third Wave”;

  • Peer Leadership, a group that incorporated nearly half the class (12 out of 28);

  • Career Fair; and

  • my personal favorite, “Purimpalooza.”

There were boys and girls basketball tournament trips, a midterm trip to Stone Mountain, volleyball, etc., etc.

For a small school, we have lots and lots of extracurricular activities, and the seniors make many of them happen…and HUM.

Many of our students will take a gap year in Israel.

We have young men going to:

  • Mevaseret,

  • Lev Hatorah, and

  • Derech Etz Chaim

We have young ladies going to:

  • Nishmat,

  • Machon Maayan,

  • Midreshet Moriah,

  • Midreshet Lindenbaum,

  • Midreshet Harova,

  • Migdal Oz,

  • Emunah Vi'Omanut, and

  • Midreshet Yeud

This past year, we celebrated amazing academic achievements at AJA, and the senior class led the way.

There are 28 students in the Class of 2015, and 24 of them took the SAT. Of these,

  • seven students scored over 1900 on the SAT,

  • two scored over 2000,

  • and the highest score was 2220.

These are amazing statistics!

  • Thirteen seniors are members of the National Honor Society, which requires a minimum GPA of 3.70.

  • In four years, the Class of 2015 completed 2900 hours of Service Learning.

  • Finally, in January of 2015, twenty-five seniors pre-qualified for the HOPE Scholarship. How many schools in Atlanta can say that almost the entire graduating class pre-qualified for HOPE? Not many.

These facts mark a tremendous achievement, and are something of which we all can be very proud.

I wish that more of those young parents I spoke about earlier were here tonight….

In my mind, the answer to the BIG QUESTION is the best thing that a parent could ever hope for. We are graduating amazing young adults who have developed the Jewish skills, Jewish lifestyles, and academic prowess to compete in the larger world and succeed, wherever they find themselves.

Mazel tov to all of you…and thank you for being the BIG ANSWER to the BIG QUESTION.

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Wednesday, 18 July 2018