8th Grade Promotion Address: Life is too short for us to do anything less than to be kind

The following is the address that I delivered to the ASP class of 2021 at their 8th grade promotion ceremony:

I promise that my words this morning will be brief. Lord knows this 8th grade class has heard me speak enough this year!

I know it is challenging for you to sit for so long, especially without checking your snapchat… or trying to keep a streak alive. But lend me your ears for one last time. Except for Julia(my daughter)… she has to listen to me for the rest of her life.

I was thinking back on your year as students and marveling at all the amazing learning experiences you have had: Outward Bound in the Lake District, Poetry recitations, Conservation videos in science, The Monuments project, floating down river under the majestic Pont du Gard, participating in the Rallye Citoyenne, creating lino prints, and gracing our stage in music and theater performances. How fortunate we all are to be here.

When I think about all that we have here at ASP, I cannot help but contrast that with the life that my mother was born into on this continent in 1942. She was born in Budapest, Hungary and would survive the Nazi occupation, live through years of communism and eventually find her way as a refugee to the United States when she was 15, just a year older than many of you.

During the Nazi occupation, my grandfather was deported to a concentration camp at Mathausen. My mother and grandmother were able to secure false papers and remain in Budapest, until Hungary was liberated in 1945. 1944 was a brutal year. In 10 weeks the Nazis deported over 600,000 Jews. In this context my grandmother decided to take my mom, who was two years old at the time, to a convent where she could be safely hidden. This meant that my mom would need to be baptized and there was no guarantee that they would see each other again. My grandmother solemnly left her child in the convent and spent the next day grieving. In the end she decided that she could not survive without her baby girl, and that her anguish scared her more than death. She returned to the convent and picked up my mom. It was only later that she found out that this same convent was discovered by the Nazis and all the children were deported to Auschwitz.
  photo of my grandfather, who survived Mathausen and my son
I tell you this short story because it continually reminds me of the two important lessons that are connected… One: life is unpredictable and fleeting… the fact that I am here standing in front of you is a matter of luck and chance. The second lesson is that life is too short for us to do anything less than to be kind to one another. We simply don't have time for it.

But if you are honest with yourselves, you have all spent way too much time "roasting" each other. If you are not careful, those roasts start to burn. There is a pressure for everything that you say to generate an "OOOOOOHHH". Is that where you will spend your energy?

Next year you move on to High School. I am certain that you will all accomplish amazing things academically and professionally. But don't forget that your greatest legacy will the warmth that you will leave behind in the hearts of others.