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When the Finish Line Becomes a Milestone

The tassel on my graduation hat that upgrades me to “graduate” status fails to display the very core of my education: the journey.

In just a few short weeks, I will be an alumna.

Soon the familiar high school hallways that shielded me from the “real world” will evaporate into mere memories as I take my first steps onto a college campus. Soon my own limits will be pushed and my boundaries will be stretched as I transition to a new zip code. Most importantly, however, I will be leaving the comfort of home and encountering people and experiences that will rock my Jewish identity in ways that will probably be good for me. Perhaps there is no greater way to recognize this moment of transition than with a graduation ceremony, the capstone of my Jewish day school education.

After the speeches, slideshows, and tears, my fellow classmates and I will participate in a ritual that transcends all the graduation clichés: we will shift our tassels from right to left, symbolizing our official completion of high school. The right side of my graduation cap marks the beginning of my education—the time when I first walked into a classroom—and the left side signifies that I have officially “finished” my learning as a student. With one swing of a tassel thirteen years of school are displayed simply as the “beginning” and “end.” I think it is ironic that my graduation ceremony recognizes the start and end dates of my education, yet overlooks the years of laughter, tears, and growth that fall in between them. The tassel on my graduation hat that upgrades me to “graduate” status fails to display the very core of my education: the journey.

In Judaism, our traditions are defined by our journeys. Our history is rooted in the journeys of our ancestors who crossed the Sea of Reeds, the Warsaw ghetto, and the roads of Selma and Montgomery. Our present faith is constantly renewed by the journeys of our teachers and rabbis who grapple with text and transform the Bible into a guide for Jewish living. Most importantly, however, our future is dependent on the paths we carve today. Nowhere in Judaism will we find an important occasion that is presented as quickly as this shift of a tassel. Our faith does not emphasize the start and end dates of our milestones, but rather the journeys that are formed in between.   

I cannot remember the exact date I started high school—nor does it matter. The beginning or final day of my academic career does not remotely define my four-year journey. When looking back on my time in school, it is not the dates I will carry with me but the invaluable experiences that I would not trade for all the graduation diplomas in the world. My journey through high school brought me immense growth, self-exploration and identity experimentation. It was in these high school hallways where competition separated my friends one week, and tragedy united us the next. My high school years introduced me to the indescribable joy of first loves, the sadness of breakups, and the power of true friendships. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned, however, is that my journey has only just begun.

In just a few short weeks, I will be an alumna of everything I have known so far. But I also will be a beginner again, prepared to approach my Jewish future by all the experiences of my past and present. 

Emily Goldberg recently graduated from the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan and will be attending Muhlenberg College in the fall. She has a growing passion for progressive Judaism and religious studies and hopes to pursue meaningful Jewish life in every community she visits. Her blog is www.faithleaping.blogspot.com.

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