Last week I attended the graduation ceremony at Tiltan, one of Haifa's two art schools.
It is stunning to consider that, in a city with a population of approximately 300,000 residents, we have two universities, including the world renowned Technion Institute, two art colleges and a teacher's training college. Haifa also has one of the most famous high-schools in the country - which was founded 103 years ago, before Israel became a State. We have one of the best grade-schools in the country as well.
Education has always been important to Jews. We are, after all, the People of the Book.
Tiltan is a school of design and visual media. The student population, like at all the institutes of higher education in Haifa, is mixed Jewish and Arab.
The graduation ceremony I attended took place on the roof of the school. It was packed. The sheer amount of creative people all together was amazing to consider and doubly so after learning that the ceremony was split in to two sections, according to what the students studied. There were simply too many students to include in a single event. When considering that this is just one of two art schools in Haifa it becomes even more remarkable.
There was an exhibition of student projects on each floor of the school. The projects are made available for public viewing so that, in addition to displaying the students' achievements for friends and family, business people can come scout out fresh talent they would like to work with.
The building itself is interesting. The funky interior design is what could be expected of any art school, anywhere in the world. It is in the basement where visitors can see the building's past – under the British Mandate it was used as a bank and it still has safe-rooms, where the money was once stored, fortified doors and all.
The ceremony was uniquely Israeli; very simply arranged and ultra-casual but it was the content that made it unlike anything you would find anywhere else in the world.
The ceremony started acknowledging students who had been killed in terror attacks over the years, people whose families donated scholarships in memory of their loved ones. These scholarships were given to exceptional students: men and women, Jews and Arabs.
First, second and third year students who were outstanding in their field of study received certificates of excellence. More than one student was honored for their kindness towards others, for going out of their way to assist people in need.
From the beginning of the ceremony a woman sat at the side of the stage, translating everything in to sign language. Who was she translating for? Simultaneous sign language translation is done for prime time news on tv but is not something one would normally see at a graduation ceremony. It wasn't long before I discovered the explanation. The student deemed the overall most outstanding in her studies also happens to be deaf. This translator had attended every class with her throughout her three years of study! Many of students, her friends, surrounded her, also speaking in sign language.
Everyone in the audience quickly learned that raising your arms and shaking your hands signifies applause which was given with great enthusiasm.
In an aside, the Master of Ceremonies, noted that this student would also be participating in the upcoming Olympics though he did not say in what capacity.
At one point a certain student was invited to the stage. I wondered how he would mount the stage as he was in a wheelchair and there were a few steps to reach the stage. Out of nowhere a few students unfolded a mobile ramp, set it in place and made sure it was safe for the young man to roll up and take center stage. To my surprise music began playing and the young man began singing.
Did you know it's possible to dance in a wheelchair?
His song was about hopes, dreams and achievement. The crowd was moved by the strength of his performance, the uplifting music (not by his handicap).
For those attending, not already familiar with the story, we were given an explanation. This young man had not been wheelchair-bound all his life. It was in 2009 that his life changed. He was one of the victims of an attack that horrified the nation: a psychopathic nut shot up a youth LGBT nightclub, murdering two and injuring others. This was one of the injured.
He will never be able to walk again but he soars on his music, proving to us all that it is possible to skip walking and move straight to flying…
As the ceremony continued, the ramp was moved aside just as swiftly as it had been put down. A representative of the bereaved families stood up to speak and present the scholarships. He spoke of his daughter who had been blown up in a suicide attack in Haifa. He spoke of her creativity and how he was happy that other students could expand on her ideas, how the students should grasp on to even the most fleeting of ideas, never dismissing them, because it is impossible to know what something that began small could eventually grow to be...
I watched as the graduating students received their certificates. Jews, Arabs, new immigrants, young and older students. People of all shapes and sizes. One mother received her diploma with a baby in her arm and her older children by her side. The ramp was again brought out to accommodate a different student in a motorized wheelchair. It seemed like he was born with cerebral palsy which weakens and can, as in his case, deform the body but does not affect the quality of the mind inside the head.
After the ceremony was over, the exhibition of student projects was officially opened. Some were not that great. Most were really interesting, thought provoking and unusual.
It was a night celebrating academic achievement, education and accomplishment.
Education is important but the real education isn't in books.
In a ceremony honoring so many talented people and so much obvious academic achievement, the real accomplishment, the real education was in being a better human being: someone who knows that value is in content of character, not the way a person looks, their background or anything else.
The real education was in the understanding that if you allow your spirit to soar and you try hard enough nothing can ever hold you back: "If you can dream it, you can make it real."
How very Israeli.
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