List College Class Address

List College Commencement Class Address

Remarks on Behalf of the Graduates: Marc Hersch, LC ’18

Chancellor Eisen, Provost Cooper, honorees, Dean Schwartz, faculty, Chairman of the Board Levine, family, friends, and the class of 2018, thank you.

As I look out at the class of 2018, I share the pride of my fellow classmates for the achievements that we celebrate today. Look at how far we have come.

I arrived at a Sukkot dinner at the start of my first year and immediately felt uneasy. Everyone was dressed nicely, wearing kippot, and greeting one another for the holiday. What was I doing there, I thought, in jeans and a t-shirt? Soon enough, someone gave me a kippah and explained the customs of this holiday to me. I returned the next night already feeling more comfortable thanks to the better understanding that I gained from my classmates.

The members of the class of 2018 have experienced profound moments of change over the last four years. A rigorous liberal arts education at Columbia or Barnard challenged our assumptions each day. The clubs and internships that we engaged in helped us to discover our passions and learn essential skills — from neuroscience research to sports journalism to marketing, from finance to programming to theater. One school alone would have made us say dayenu, it would have been enough. But we chose to pair our outstanding liberal arts education with a first-rate Jewish studies curriculum and to forge an intentional Jewish living community. What has this additional part of our education given us?

It began in the classroom. Some of us had studied Judaism for years beforehand in a yeshiva, while others took our first lesson in Hebrew at JTS and have since specialized in Jewish literature, Talmud, or Bible. I call to mind the member of our class who did not know even the Hebrew alphabet at the start of his first year but this year wrote a senior honors thesis on the development of the Hebrew language. Others of us found our niche in Jewish history, philosophy, music, or art. I think about the member of our class whose focus on urban studies was enriched by the values that she gained from her study of Jewish ethics. Professors and advisers took great concern for our learning, not just regardless of our backgrounds, but also because of them. We took the risk of admitting what we did not know or met the challenge of studying something we already knew but with a new perspective, all the while learning from each other.

It continued into our communities. We have begun to carve out roles as lay leaders even as we begin the path to careers outside the Jewish community. How about the members of our class who directed the Conservative minyan at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, or who traveled the world to spread Jewish music with their a cappella ensemble? Or the student who, while planning to attend law school next year, is already interviewing to teach Hebrew school at a local synagogue in his spare time? We have been transformed from consumers to contributors of the communities that we hold dear because we value quality leadership and care about the Jewish future.

And finally, it reaches the outside world. Bind all of this together, and you see that the insights that we gained from our unique college experience have reshaped the way that we engage with Jewish tradition and society at large. Take the member of our class who has interned in her local political office and will join her representatives full time, the student who will analyze and suggest improvements to our health care system, and the student who will join the fundraising team of the largest Jewish non-profit.

The morning blessings remind us, Ashreinu mah tov helqeinu, u’mah naim goralenu, u’mah yafah yerushatenu; happy are we, for how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, and how beautiful our heritage. 

Indeed, we are happy, for the deep learning that we have completed, for the thirst to take on future positions of leadership in the communities that we will join, and for the encounter with our tradition that has prepared us to improve our world.

Class of 2018, I was one of those students who benefited from your knowledge at that Sukkot dinner four years ago. I replace my embarrassment with tremendous gratitude for what you have taught me. Now together let’s pay it forward.

Congratulations, and thank you.