April 14, 2024
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Rebecca was incensed. Every time Mrs. Klein returned her students’ essays the grades were the same. A’s for the girls the teacher liked and B’s and C’s for the others. There were never any comments or explanations for the marks other than an excellent scrawled in red near the A or a needs work with two strong lines underscoring the lower grades. Rebecca was certain that Mrs. Klein never bothered to read any of the papers. Instead she had her own personal grading system and although Rebecca was to be Class Valedictorian, she was not on her teacher’s list of favorites.

Before she handed in her final essay of the semester, Rebecca decided to test her theory. She opened her paper with the correct information and then inserted several paragraphs of nonsense in the middle. Rebecca then closed her essay with a strong ending. Sure enough, her work came back with the usual red-circled B emblazoned across the heading. She was right! Mrs. Klein never even looked at their papers, just at their names.

That very afternoon Rebecca panicked when she was summoned to her principal’s office.

At first, she was relieved to discover that the visit wasn’t about her “creative” paper, but her relief quickly turned to dismay. It was much worse.

“Rebecca, we would love it if you would present your valedictory speech in Hebrew. We realize that you were chosen to be English Valedictorian, but your command of the language is so wonderful that we are going to switch things around a bit. We know you will do an excellent job!”

Rebecca swallowed hard. “But no one listens to the Hebrew speech…No one really understands it. We all know that.” She tried to make her case. But it seemed that the student with the highest grades in Judaic studies was not as fluent in Hebrew as Rebecca.

Mrs. Weiner, the principal, was adamant. “I’m sorry Rebecca, and I’m sure you’re mistaken. Certainly the audience listens to both speeches. In any case, I’ve already made my decision.”

Graduation day turned out to be sunny and bright. The excited crowd of parents and relatives streamed into the school auditorium exchanging mazal-tov’s. They then clapped in enthusiasm as their children filed in to “Pomp and Circumstance” and the festivities began: “The Star-Spangled Banner.” “Hatikvah.” The inevitable greetings from the principal after which came the welcome from the school president. To lighten the mood, the girls performed a beautiful choral rendition. Finally it was time…time for the class stars.

Rebecca strolled confidently to the stage. In flowing Hebrew she effortlessly delivered her speech. The first two rows of the auditorium were filled with smiling teachers and administrators. Proudly, they nodded along with beaming faces to Rebecca’s opening words on the parsha. Suddenly the nodding stopped and the smiles froze, as the educators in the front seats started to look around in bewilderment. They then darted nervous glances at the parents seated behind them. No one else seemed confused or upset. The audience was fully focused on a self-assured Rebecca.

What no one else seemed to realize was that the Class Valedictorian was now reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” in perfect, flowing Hebrew and with great dramatic flair. At the same time, her classmates were poking at each other in delight and giggling helplessly. Once again, Rebecca had successfully proved her point.

It goes without saying, that Rebecca’s valediction was a graduation speech that would be long remembered by her classmates and often spoken about at her high school. Rebecca went on to become a successful lawyer. Mrs. Klein, on the other hand, switched schools.

Estelle Glass, a Teaneck resident, is a retired educator who is now happily writing her own essays.

By Estelle Glass

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