When Ilan Scher was voted by his classmates to deliver a speech on their behalf at graduation, he turned to an unlikely source, the animated TV show “SpongeBob SquarePants,” for inspiration.
As he addressed the crowd gathered at Hofstra University on Wednesday night for the 2013 commencement of Hebrew Academy of Nassau County High School, Scher borrowed a story from the cartoon to make a point about his class’ diversity. He spoke of a man who left his multifarious hometown to live in a homogenous environment where everyone looked, talked and acted the same.
“He had the time of his life fitting into this utopian society he always dreamed of escaping to,” said Scher, 18, of West Hempstead. “However, after a few weeks, this monotonous town became too colorless and repetitive for his taste.”
In the 16 years that Scher has been a student of the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, he’s seen classmates leave for other schools, but many ultimately decided to return. He surmised that it’s the school’s “incredible diversity” that draws them back. Although all the students are Jewish and study the Torah, their lineages -- Persian, Israelis, Afghani, Ashkenazi and Bukhari -- and customs are not the same.
“We speak different languages and eat different foods … but we share our cultures, we share everything and we learn to appreciate people from different backgrounds,” Scher added.
The commencement ceremony included traditional Hebrew prayers and speeches focused on the students’ shared faith, but the unique personalities of the 64 graduates were showcased in a video that was projected on a screen inside Adams Playhouse. It featured photos and interviews of the students, and even a brief music video starring the Class of 2013, who attended the academy’s Brookdale Campus in Uniondale.
“It’s all been just one amazing run,” said Avner Baruch, 18, of Forest Hills, who spent more than two weeks working on the video.
Both Scher and Baruch will be spending the next year studying abroad in Israel along with two other classmates. Their fellow graduates are off to a mix of more than 50 yeshivot, seminaries and colleges including Cornell University, New York University and Yeshiva University.
As they head out into the world, their principal, Rabbi Shlomo Adelman, urged them to be “literal angels of God,” to inspire and elevate others, regardless of the profession they choose and challenges they encounter.
“Anyone can be holy in a vacuum or a world devoid of challenge and temptation,” he said. “But to find holiness in a world full of schmutz and garbage … now that’s inspiring.”
Annelle Amsellem, 17, of Great Neck, plans to study to be a physician's assistant at Queens College, while also continuing to pursue theater on the side. During the graduation ceremony, Amsellem performed a “poetry slam,” delivering a dramatic reading of a poem she wrote about leaving HANC and the friends she has made there.
“It’s like saying goodbye to a brother or sister, like being caught in the middle of the storm,” she proclaimed while on-stage. “Gefilte fish or rice, pale or dark skin, I love them all the same. It doesn’t matter where they’ve been.”