Graduation! Or: Naso, A Personal Reflection

Graduation! Or: Naso, A Personal Reflection

Hlllary Kaplan at SFU graduaitonGraduation.

Yes! This week, our daughter graduated from Simon Fraser University.

Remember ancient rabbinic astrology? How it draws on the weekly Torah reading? When you celebrate a special event, you receive the blessings of that reading.

Woot! This is the week of Parshat Naso. And it’s also the year we focus on its last section.

It’s so perfect for graduation! So full of blessing!  God teaches the cohanim (priests) how to bless the people.

May the LORD: Bless you and keep you. Shine the Divine face towards you and fill you with grace. Raise the Divine face towards you and place peace upon you.

The word for shine is ya’er. Literally, it means “light up.” Education is enlightenment. The Biblical Hebrew word for grace is yechunekha. The modern Hebrew word education is chinukh. Same root? Maybe not. But the sounds are linked. Education is a blessing.

Priestly blessing as it appears in a Torah scroll, for a post about the blessing of graduationAlso: look carefully at the Hebrew in the Torah scroll. See a bit of the scribal art tradition. Notice how the words are arranged. They draw an image in the white space. Some say it’s a hand offering blessing. But others say it’s a dove in flight. Remember Noah’s story? Then you know: the dove is a symbol of security, grace, and peace.

A bird. So perfect. Because our daughter’s name means “Laughing bird of blessing, priestess.”

Also, Parshat Naso is so full of ceremony! A crowd gathers at the mishkan (sanctuary). Moses calls each tribal leader by name. One by one they step forward, gift in hand. Each leader has a different name. But each holds the same item. Two beautiful pieces of fine silver art.

So perfect for graduation. The chancellor called each graduate by name. One by one, they stepped forward. Each had a different name. But each received the same gift. A silver pin with the school motto. Nous sommes pret. We are ready.

And so perfect for our artistic daughter. Because her bat mitzvah ceremony, 15 years ago, was also in the week of Parshat Naso. She chose to speak about the beauty and symbolism of the artisan gifts. Of course. She’s worked in arts administration for four years, now.

But are the grads really ready? SFU Chancellor Anne Giardini thought so. “Keep calm and think critically,” she told them. “Resist disinformation!” Put your education to good use.

Then, President Andrew Petter tried to inspire the grads. “You’ve climbed one mountain,” he said, “your education. Next climb what David Brooks calls the ‘second mountain.’ Helping others.” Because the new SFU motto is Engage the World. 

(Brooks, by the way, is a New York Times columnist. I was hoping Petter would also quote Nicholas Kristof, whose column literally does help others. But he didn’t.)

SFU awarded an honorary degree to Chief Robert Joseph. Chief Joseph was also the graduation speaker. “You are not alone,” he told the grads. “Namwayut: we are one human family.” Then, he turned to current events. The report on missing and murdered Indigenous women. “Canada stands accused of genocide,” he said, “a serious charge.” Then, he encouraged grads to engage with the process of Reconciliation.

Next, the student speaker, Nicolas Tellez-Espana, honoured his elders. “When I said I wanted to go to university, my parents asked how I was going to pay for it. Being a teen, I felt attacked by them. Now I thank them for their advice.”

Finally, the graduates came forward. One by one. First the Ph.D.s. Then, the M.A.s and the M.B.A.s. And then the B.A.s. Several women Ph.D.s received their hoods from their women mentors. Yes, I cried.

So, yeah, I am into the lineage thing. Our daughter’s father is a cohen. Thus, she is too. So, it’s wonderful that Naso is her magic Torah reading.

Also, did I mention this? Speaking of lineage. Our daughter earned a B.A., major in Gender Studies and Women’s Studies. Minor in Philosophy. Certificate in Performance Studies. So, yeah, we have similar interests. But different personalities.

And there’s Naso again: same gifts, different names. Remember rabbinic astrology?

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