By: Samantha Ebner (12th Grade)
Graduation ceremonies act as closure for students and faculty to say their goodbyes and share their appreciation. Therefore, when COVID-19 hit Florida and the school announced that they will be closing and resuming all classes online through Zoom, my classmates and I became very worried about how that would affect our graduation. The hard work we put into the past four years felt as if it may be diminished and pushed aside. After our class finished their senior projects and completed all of the AP exams, we began to discuss graduation options. A Zoom was led by Rabbi Guttenberg, Dr. Lieber, and Morah Twito in which they shared with us three potential graduation options: a drive-through graduation, Zoom graduation, or an in-person ceremony in which only the students could attend. Dissatisfied, we requested to push graduation off to a later date and revisit any options later on. Once Miami began to reopen, and large groups were permissible, the option to have an outdoor graduation ceremony with immediate family members was decided. The graduation was truly spectacular to say the least; the night was full of excitement, cheer, and positivity. When the students arrived in their cars with their families, they were called to drive up to the front of school to receive a pie of pizza, a cake, and a bag with waters and popcorn. The graduates and their families were greeted by the entire high school faculty. The cars were then ushered onto the field and directed where to go in order to make a semi circle around the graduates. The graduates were then told to leave their cars, with their customized Hebrew Academy masks on, and make their way to the seats that were placed six feet apart. Due to the strict nine p.m. curfew, the graduation ceremony began with the Pledge of Allegiance and a video of each graduate and their baby photo. The seniors then received their diplomas and yearbooks. Each student was called up by a faculty member in which they described the student and their plans for next year in a pre-recorded video. While the video played, each student walked up a red carpet to get their diploma and yearbook and to take a picture. Subsequently, the student video was shown.
First, Salutatorian Batya Fruhman spoke about how special our class is. Because our grade is only made up of twenty-nine people, we have always been very close. No matter what chaos was happening around us, we always banned together and had each other’s backs. Yosef Melul, the Valedictorian, then spoke about his parents and how they migrated from Venezuela when he was two years old. He talked about how he started the Hebrew Academy without speaking a word of English and eventually made friends by getting out of his comfort zone. He shared his personal experiences about failures he’s endured during his life, but reminded us all that the failure is not the setback, it is how we react that will determine the outcome. He explained that with hard work and perseverance anything is possible. Head of School Rabbi Guttenberg and President of the Board Iris Herssein also addressed the class and gave good wishes to us.
We then continued with a video of the yearbook dedication. This year, the yearbook was dedicated to Rabbi Ariel and Morah Oryan Koriat. The Koriats joined our Hebrew Academy family just last year and completely enhanced the day-to-day school life. They deeply cared for each student and made true bonds with everyone. The Koriats will be moving back to Israel next year, so the senior class felt that it was necessary to thank them. Following the dedication, each student thanked a faculty member for their help and encouragement over the last four years. A tribute video was then played to honor one of the founding members of this community, and the President of Beth-El, Mr. David Muhlrad Z”L. The video was full of pictures of him and his family and alumni of the Hebrew Academy sharing their stories and fond memories of him. The night concluded with the Hatikva and some music while everyone was leaving. The graduation was really unbelievable. I am still in awe of how wonderful it was and how the school pulled it off. The last-minute planned beyond successful graduation was a testament to the beauty of our school. Our close-knit school allows for every occasion to be celebrated and carried out exceptionally. I am so grateful I was able to take part in that ceremony; it is something I will remember and talk about for the rest of my life. Thank you Hebrew Academy for being a home to me these past 16 years! I know I will always keep the values and lessons I learned here with me forever.