We attended our first high school
graduation last night.
graduated from Ostrosvky High School
in Ra’anana, Israel.
Ostrovsky is a secular, public Israeli high
It is considered one of Israel’s
best high schools with a matriculation (successful grade 12 graduation) rate
close to 100%.
The school places a
significant emphasis on academic excellence and features very strong
specialized high school programs in math, physics, robotics and computers.
Ostrovsky is also the home of the best high
school women’s basketball team in the country, which won the national
championship once again this year for the fourth consecutive year.
This year’s high school graduation
was held outdoors at Park Ra’anana, which is Ra’anana’s version of Central
Park, a beautiful park that includes an amphitheatre, basketball court, roller
hockey pad, mini-zoo, free outdoor exercise equipment and many other amenities.
The evening was divided into two
parts, formal and informal. The
“informalities” began at about 6:30 p.m.
There were eight graduating classes, each with approximately 35
students. The eight classes assembled in
different areas of the park for the first part of the evening. At these class ceremonies, the home room
teachers presented awards to the students including excellence awards. The home room teacher and some other teachers
had the chance to speak to the students and some of the students made
presentations and provided appreciation gifts to some of the teachers.
This part of the evening was very
moving. Teachers in Israel are on a
first name basis with their students.
They connect via email and Facebook and take an active role in their
students’ success. Over the three years
of high school, the students of each home room class remained together. The class group went on trips together
including trips across Israel and a trip to Poland to visit concentration and
death camps and other sites. The
relationships between the teachers and the students – as well as the
relationships among many of the parents and among the students themselves are
often very close relationships – a tight knit community, if not a family.
In our case, our daughter was
fortunate to have had an outstanding home room teacher, whose sense of
dedication to his students’ well-being was constantly evident. He addressed the students and then provided
them each with a few special gifts – a copy of his address, a small gift – and
a DVD of all of the photos that he had assembled over the three years with the
The teachers did not all speak at
this meeting. However, one of the math
teachers was the subject of a powerful presentation. The teacher of the “5-unit” math course – the
highest level of high school math in Israel – was called up for a
presentation. This math teacher, a PhD.
in math, is known for being extremely demanding, rigorous and for running a
highly disciplined class environment.
But his dedication to math and his commitment to excellence are
contagious. He pushed the students
(including our daughter) for three years and produced tremendous results. The students realized how fortunate they were
to have this type of teacher and two of these students had special words to
After about two hours, we moved
from the less formal part of the evening to the school-wide graduation ceremony
with all of the students and their family members and friends in the Ra’anana Amphitheatre.
The first part of this ceremony consisted
of a number of speeches, which were probably similar to the speeches given at
many different graduations around the world.
There were quite a number of speakers including the school principal,
the guidance counselor, the mayor of Ra’anana, the head of the parent-teacher
association and a few others. In total,
this went on for close to 1 ½ hours.
Some of the speeches were
particularly poignant, especially the principal’s address. A high school graduation in Israel is a very
emotional evening. Whereas in Canada or
the U.S., or many other countries, most of the students are planning to
continue their academic studies in September (or, perhaps, one year later), in
Israel most of the students will be enlisted into the army (the Israel Defence
Forces). Since Ostrovsky has such a
strong academic program, many of its students are recruited to serve in
prestigious, high level units, including intelligence units, the air force, and
some elite combat units. A principal
addressing these students knows that many of them may well face significant,
dangerous challenges during their mandatory military service.
The principal called upon these “students
of the millennium generation” to continue to work to change society. She highlighted the many positive ways that
students have used technology in Israel (and worldwide) to help recruit more
voters, to organize rallies and political campaigns and to push for social change. She called on the students to take
responsibility for helping make Israel a better place by working to reduce the
gap between the wealthy and the poor in society, by working to support
political candidates of their choice actively and peacefully (as so many did in
Israel’s recent national election), by helping to promote tolerance in society,
and by helping Israel to find a way to reach peace deals with its Arab
One of the speakers, I believe it
was the head of the PTA, also had a very interesting message. She recounted that when her son was young, he
would climb up a neighbourhood tree and people would tell him to come down
before he gets hurt. Although he fell
from the tree and was injured, it was not particularly serious. She now urged him and the other students to
“continue to climb as high you can, don’t be afraid of the heights and don’t
let anyone tell you to come down from the tree.” It is a message that resonates throughout
Israeli society, in a country which must constantly cope with existential
threats, even though the country may enjoy intermittent periods of relative
The school faculty then
distributed awards of high excellence to students with averages exceeding 95%.
Various other awards and certificates were handed out, recognizing a wide range
of student volunteer activities and dedication to the school, the community and
many different causes.
Once the formal part of the
evening was over – one and half hours later, the fun part of the evening began.
The grade 12 graduating class presented a revue show entitled “Ostrovsky’s 51st
graduating class in 60 minutes.” The
show included various dances, some with more than 80 students on the stage at
the same time, short skits, video clips that the students had prepared, one or
two video clips prepared by the faculty, and a number of songs. It was entertaining and fun. One of the comedic highlights was a group of
males students, dressed in tutus, singing Carly-Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” –
with accompanying dance moves and gestures.
In another skit, A group of teachers produced a video clip of a mock
classroom scheme – in which the students are doing a whole bunch of
inappropriate things in the class – wearing sunglasses, talking on their cell
phones, texting each other, putting on nail polish – and my favourite – one
“student” asks if he can eat a snack in class – he then pulls out a chopping
board and starts cutting up a cucumber and tomato to make a salad…it was quite
The finale featured most of the students
dancing and singing on stage. And the
students all headed out to a post-grad party – which I know very little about…
Most students have not yet
completed all of their grade 12 exams and may still be writing them until
mid-July, depending on which courses they took.
So the year is not yet over for everyone. But some students have completed their exams
and may enter the army as soon as early July.
Students planning to continue on with their
education will need to complete Israel’s “psychometric exams” – an SAT-type
standardized test. But first, they will
need to complete their mandatory military service, which could range from
twenty months to just under three years.
Some will choose to become career military personnel and may continue
with their education under the auspices of the IDF. Others will attend university as soon as they
are able to do so after completing their service.
For now, the students still have
more exams to write and an upcoming prom (which is becoming more and more of a
tradition in Israel, of late). Then, for
most of them, it is off to the “real world” in a way that is quite different
from what 18 and 19 year-olds around the world experience.
We can only dream for a day when
Israel will be at peace with its neighbours and universal, mandatory service
will not be necessary. But looking at
events taking place in Syria, Egypt, Gaza, Iran, Turkey and Israel’s other neighbouring
countries it is difficult to be optimistic that this will occur anytime
We wish the students of the 2013
graduating class of Ostrovsky (as well all the other graduating students in
Israel) success in all they do. May they
serve proudly and return home safely. To
all the 18 and 19 year-olds we know in other countries, who will be entering
university or college in September, we wish them the best of success. They should constantly remember how fortunate
they are to be living in countries that are not facing these types of existential
threats and they should take full advantage of their opportunities.