Disguised as an elderly woman in czarist Russia, Sheridan Pierce took the stage at Brentwood School. As the bright lights touched her face and the character took over her body, Pierce poured her heart into her role, and she realized that she was meant to act. The play was "Fiddler on the Roof," and Pierce, a ninth-grader at the time, was playing Yente the matchmaker. The significance of the role, she said, was her connection with the character on a more personal level. "Deep in my soul, I'm already a little old Jewish lady," she joked.
Quinn Lohmann closes his eyes and tilts his head slightly. His fingers find their place between the frets of his guitar, and his voice rings out, soft and crystal clear. "We all got a life to live. We all got a gift to give. ..."
When his late grandmother was first diagnosed with terminal cancer three years ago, Jason Aftalion was moved by the volunteers who visited her at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "I was so touched by how they talked to her and spent time with her, so she wouldn't be lonely," said Aftalion, a Persian-American senior at Milken Community High School.
In her junior year, Oakwood senior Katherine Bernstein spent two weeks in Sierra Leone with the North Hollywood school's immersion program. Amid carrying buckets of cement for a new school and helping to paint a map of the world in its library, she was struck by a major difference between life in Southern California and the West African nation.
Corinne Kentor may be coming of age in the iPad and Kindle era, but she feels most at home surrounded by books. The more classic the volumes, the better. It's "Candide" and "Don Quixote" that thrill this New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) senior, who lights up when she discusses the works of Shakespeare or the Brontë sisters.
Milken Community High School senior Leah Gluck is dedicated to raising awareness about genocide, even though it seems so distant and unsolvable.
Shalhevet journalism teacher Joelle Keene says that Leila Miller, editor-in-chief of the school's newspaper, The Boiling Point, has set a high standard for journalism, integrity and optimism amid complex human relations.
Eeman Khorramian could see himself entering the political world. The Palisades Charter High School senior has been highly active in school affairs and with the school's student government since ninth grade. His leadership skills even earned him the position of student body president.
Having recently attended the college graduation of our middle child, I could not stop thinking what I might have said if given the opportunity to offer the commencement address. Here are five thoughts:
Before 18 year-old Sara Smith graduated last June, she made multiple trips to the stage to receive multiple honors at Shalhevet High School's awards brunch for graduating seniors. In addition to being named class valedictorian, she received the excellence in math award, two Bureau of Jewish Education awards and a plaque from Bank of America.
This June, talented and bright middle school and high school graduates, like Sara, will star in their own school awards ceremonies. They will walk up to the stage, amid hearty cheering by faculty and family, to receive awards for their achievements in such categories as academics, the arts, sports and menschlikhkayt.
At the same time, the majority of their classmates will sit and watch, walking away without any certificates, plaques, trophies or applause and likely feeling that their contributions have been inconsequential. Many might inevitably become less enthusiastic about attending graduation ceremonies and festivities.
That conflict is not lost on the award winners themselves.
As a young man, Bernie Axelrad learned two invaluable lessons: family and education are everything.