July 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Farewell, Ramaz: Graduation at Last!

I still remember the first day of my four years at Ramaz Upper School, which was Freshman Orientation. That day was the first day I stepped inside the school building as a student, and the day I first got a taste of what my time at Ramaz would be like. Of course, the day of team-building activities at the Asphalt Green sports complex didn’t exactly foreshadow the countless assignments, tests, extracurricular projects and challenges that were to come. It was the day, however, where I encountered for the first time many of the people who would become close friends of mine, and the day where I first took on my new identity as a “Ramaz student.”

On Thursday, June 16, I changed from a student to an alumnus when I walked onstage at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun to receive my diploma. Of course, our graduation ceremony was the culmination of countless rehearsals, hours spent practicing the songs we performed in the cantata and making sure that we marched in and out of the sanctuary in the right way. But in a broader sense, my graduation from Ramaz was the culmination of four whirlwind years, with too many ups and downs to list.

Ramaz was not on my or my family’s radar when we were first starting to think about where to go to high school. It isn’t a classic choice for high schoolers from the Bergen County area; it’s relatively far and has a very different culture and student body from the local choices we were considering. But my seventh-grade Torah teacher, who had taught at Ramaz Middle School the previous year, suggested that my parents consider Ramaz for my siblings and me for high school. She thought that with its academic prowess and New York City opportunities, it would be a good fit for us. So we looked into the school, went to the open house, applied and eventually decided that we would give Ramaz a chance.

I can’t say what my life would have been like had I chosen TABC or Frisch instead, so I’m not going to dwell on “why Ramaz” or whether I think it was the right choice over other options. But during the lead-up to graduation, and then during graduation itself, I did find myself looking back at the four years of high school and thinking about what I had gained or lost through them.

Ramaz was never easy. It was never going to be a cakewalk given its difficult academics, of course. But the physical distance between where I live and the school led to many challenges. The morning commute, while manageable, took a long time to adjust to. I eventually managed to use the bus rides to do work or finish up some writing. (I wrote many Jewish Link columns on the way to or from Ramaz!) But it made a long day of school even longer, and also created social challenges. Living so far away from many of my friends meant that I would not always be able to join when people were hanging out, or that I would not always be invited places because people would think I couldn’t make it. But I worked hard on bridging the distance; I would try to go to Ramaz sport games and stay over by friends, or occasionally take NJ Transit into Manhattan on weekends to meet up with people. I learned how to be proactive, to be the one taking initiative—because otherwise I wasn’t going to get anywhere.

The glut of extracurricular activities Ramaz offers also became difficult for me when I took on too much. I wanted to take advantage of as many opportunities as I could, but learned that it would have been better to just focus on a few. Some of the ones I did were successful: The newspaper staff got many issues out during my tenure as an editor-in-chief; my friends and I on Chidon HaTanach reached the national round three times. Some had their ups and downs: Film club made some great movies but eventually folded due to lack of student interest; my once-successful Humans of Ramaz photo project stalled when I became overwhelmed with other projects. Often I found myself with too much to get done, between my schoolwork and extracurricular work, and I wished that I had taken on less.

However, Ramaz also gave me so much that I’ll always cherish. The classes, of course, were both challenging and exciting, pushing me to think and analyze issues in ways I never had before. I had to work hard, but managed to care about my classes and connect with my teachers. Ramaz also brought in speakers or took us on trips to places around NYC, supplementing classes with valuable real-world experiences and stories. Of course, I made so many friends, and I’m close with so many people whom I never would have expected to befriend given how different we are. Many people also opened their homes to me when I needed to stay over, helping me solve the issue of living far from school yet wanting to stay late for events. I’ll always appreciate how many people I managed to meet during my four years at Ramaz.

In some ways, graduation felt like a look towards the future; certainly, Israel and college were on my mind. But as I sung with my friends in the cantata, listened to classmates deliver the speeches, and at last received my long-awaited diploma, I also used it as a look back to appreciate my time at Ramaz and how I had grown throughout my experiences there.

To all of my administrators, teachers, and friends at Ramaz, there are two words I want to say to all of you: Thank you.

By Oren Oppenheim

Oren Oppenheim, 18, is an alumnus of Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. This coming fall, he will be attending Yeshivat Orayta in Jerusalem; he will start college at the University of Chicago in 2017. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist and a journalist. You can email him at [email protected].

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