Rabbi Buckman’s address to G12 students at “Life After CHAT”

I usually give a talk at “Life After CHAT” about my philosophy of running and how it applies to life after chat. But today, I just want to share a brief thought.

Much of contemporary schooling promotes a very narrow definition of success.  It defines success in terms of test scores and marks and acceptance to elite university programs.  It makes it seem as if education is about a march to some predetermined destination.

Maybe you’ve even felt this…that you are defined by a score or a mark and your fate and perhaps even your worth are determined by marks.  The bad thing about this is that education becomes about success and not learning.

The sad thing is that university students say that the race in high school continues in university.  They do community service not necessarily because it helps people but because it’ll look good on their resume.  They often make friends not because of friendship but to network.  They do an internship not because they’re necessarily interested in the work but because it will help them get into graduate school.  Resumes and networking and graduate school are all good, but they shouldn’t be the raison d’etre of making friends or chesed or doing an internship.

I want you to do one simple thing:  Give yourself permission to change your mind and take your time.  Give yourself permission to make friends because friends enrich our lives.  Do acts of chesed because your heart can’t ignore the needs of others.  Do an internship because it’ll help you figure out what you like and what you’re good at and because you want to learn something new.

If I were speaking to your parents, I’d want them to give you permission to explore your academic interests when you get to university and to change your mind and not feel as if you wasted your time or their money.

I’d want them to give you permission to see life after TanenbaumCHAT not as a march toward some predetermined destination but as a process of discovery with room for stops and detours and surprises along the way.

It’s hard to give yourself permission to do this. It’s hard for parents to do this.  They’re just as much caught up in the race to the top and worried about the competitive world out there and financial success.  I understand their fear; I’m a parent, too, of four sons.

Nevertheless, give yourself permission to go to Israel for a gap year.  It’ll be the only opportunity you’ll have to get out of the resume race and just learn and experience for the sake of learning and experiencing.  It’ll also build a deep connection with Israel before you go to university and find out that standing for Israel isn’t so popular or comfortable or easy.

Give yourself permission not to know exactly what you want to do with your life and to be an 18 year old and explore your interests.

Give yourself permission to think not just about pursuing a career but about creating a deep and rich inner life, a deep and rich Jewish life, where you discover your God-given talents and use them to help others achieve their goals.

Give yourself permission and perhaps your parents will too.

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