April 22, 2024
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Yeshivat Noam Brings Graduation Home

Years from now, maybe generations from now, graduates from 2020 will have a lasting bond. Millions of students across the country expected to graduate this year will tell people, “I was in the class of 2020,” and these people will nod, knowingly—oh, that year!—and want to hear their story.

The graduates from Yeshivat Noam have a phenomenal story to share. An experience that will forever unite them as the Yeshivat Noam Class of 2020.

Our daughter Galil, our fourth and final Yeshivat Noam graduate, was resigned to exiting middle school with no fanfare because of coronavirus, when we received an email from Yeshivat Noam with specific instructions but few details. Some of the particulars were: the following Sunday, Galil was to be outside our home at a specific time dressed in her cap and gown. Family should gather on chairs. Neighbors could watch while maintaining social distancing. Photographers would be there. We received a schedule from the school listing over 80 graduates, showing the time slot reserved for each one. We could not imagine what to expect when we saw the ambitious schedule spanning two full days, 11-hour routes per day.

So on that dedicated sunny Sunday evening, May 31, we forced our boys to dress up and we gathered on the lawn and waited, not knowing what awaited us. Parents were updated on arrival times through WhatsApp, and right on schedule we heard music and then…a float came into view. And in that moment, it felt as if the dark clouds of the stay-at-home blues were swept away, replaced by a feeling of pure bliss. Standing on the orange and blue decorated float was Head of School Rabbi Chaim Hagler and all around him was a blur of movement and energy generated on the ground by parent volunteers Ed Stelzer, megaphone at the ready, Chanan Vogel, confetti cannon in hand and Ari Wartelsky, directing us to our spots. Our neighbors and close family turned out to join us in our celebration.

With Pomp and Circumstance playing (thanks to music teacher Adina Mermelstein), Aliza Chanales, the beloved middle school general studies principal, gracefully escorted Galil to her reserved seat facing the float. Rabbi Hagler delivered a short speech sweetly personalized for Galil. Next, Galil was surprised as she was invited to step up to a podium affixed to the float, and was asked to deliver a charming pre-written speech, giving her the opportunity to feel like a valedictorian. Using comedy throughout the program, Rabbi Hagler played along with the pretense that Galil had personally crafted this meaningful graduation speech which she was to deliver to the enthusiastic crowd of neighbors and passersby who congregated to join the festivities. The smile on her face got wider and wider with each additional surprise.

Stepping down from the float, Galil was greeted by Yeshivat Noam’s mascot, the Noam Knight, who had covered his traditional armor with appropriate PPE to safely hand her a diploma. And to keep the tradition of every graduate posing with a smiling Rabbi Hagler, a life-size cardboard cutout appeared for safe picture-taking during these COVID-19 times. We also received a beautiful Stefanie Diamond-designed lawn sign with a photograph of our graduate and a keepsake graduation sweatshirt for the Class of 2020. Throughout it all, a photographer snapped away, making Galil feel like a celebrity.

As the portable graduation ceremony rolled away to the next graduate’s house with the music fading into the distance, we stood there on the lawn still slightly numbed and basking in the glow of what had just happened. Our time slot had been at the near-end of the day, yet there was still a freshness to the energy that made us feel special, as if we were the first ones to experience it that day. In an astonishing feat, a dedicated group of educators and parent volunteers was able to pack a full graduation experience of joy, pride, accomplishment and even surprise into 15 minutes. We will be forever grateful for this memory.

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