Ezra SackettEzra Sackett graduates Summa Cum Laude with a major in Political Science and a minor in Jewish Studies. Ezra served as the 2014-2015 valedictorian in Jewish Studies. Below is his valedictory speech, which he gave at the Jewish Studies Graduation Ceremony on May 8, 2015.

Thank you for the kind introduction, Dr. Shneer. On behalf of the graduates, I would like to thank all of the people who came to celebrate today. Professors, faculty, friends, family, mentors, and distinguished guests. From the bottom of our hearts we thank you for all you’ve done to bring us to this day, and a special shout out to the parents who are going to let us move back home in the fall.

When David asked me to speak at this ceremony with the title of Valedictorian, I replied back that this is a humbling surprise and am delighted to accept the honor. He then explained that my address today should include what I’ve learned in the Jewish Studies program, something about my independent research project, and a charge to the class about our future. All in 5 minutes. Now, five minutes is nowhere near enough time to fit in all of the inspiring clichés I wanted to and frankly, I started to panic. I found solace, however, when I realized I could extend my time with the unwritten rule of Valedictorians. It goes like this: For every year CU has raised tuition, I get another minute.

One week ago I wrote a paper comparing and contrasting the Ancient Greek Characters Achilles, Odysseus, and Socrates. I mistakenly thought—wishful thinking—it would be the last major project of my undergraduate career. It turns out that writing this speech, was more intensive than anticipated. So with the full week in between finals and graduation wide open to work on this, I sat down last night to begin writing. I’m really not sure why I list time management as one of my skills on linked in. But for some reason, six people have gone through the painstaking task of clicking the mouse to endorse me for this skill to which I am forever grateful, if not somewhat puzzled. Take this speech for example. Two minutes have disintegrated into the musky air and I have yet to bring up what I’ve learned in Jewish Studies, share my research project, or deliver anything resembling a charge. But we just arrived at our first lesson in my story: better late than never. Seriously, I know we all have something gnawing at us, I promise better late than never.

My journey into the world of Jewish studies began at Tulane University. I took intro to Jewish Civilization with a quirky Hasidic Jew who wrote mystery novels on the side and had students over for Passover Seders. Through this exposure I developed an academic appreciation for the religion I was brought up into and realized that this discipline is illuminating for all who are interested in Jewish theology, culture, language, and history (both ancient and modern). I was introduced to the program in Jewish Studies by Dr. Zilla Goodman who implored me to become a minor.  {IN ACCENT} “Darling, you’re halfway there already.” Well, darling, I can say that her great advice brought me into this program and introduced me to a group of dedicated experts who skillfully share their knowledge with a group of curious students. My Jewish Studies experience has included courses with Zilla Goodman, Liora Halperin, Juliet Wittman, Steve Glickman, and David Shneer. Each course gave me a fresh insight into the depth and breadth of the program and I know my peers are equally appreciative of the entire group of professors in Jewish Studies who are sitting with us today.

I am proud to be a part of this program because of the great success we’ve had in providing an open environment to people of all backgrounds to come and learn. This reflects our greater commitment to approaching Jewish Studies with critical thinking and the academic rigor required of producing insights that will stand the test of time. The success of this program in growth, interest, and community support speaks for itself and I am so thankful to be a small part of its legacy.

For mostly the wrong reasons, and a couple of the right ones, I signed up to write an honors thesis last spring. With a vague topic in mind and a desire for a special purple necklace, I sent in the email with a brief and ignorant proposal regarding American Jewish political identity. A year has gone by and I have spent countless hours poring over previous research, trying to learn Stata, frantically emailing advisors (Thank you Dr. Shneer), and convincing myself to continue with this undertaking despite serious feelings of doubt. In approaching this topic it was no surprise that the majority of the previous research was devoted to Jews who identify as Democrats. In an attempt to introduce new research to the field, I wanted to know what factors influenced the political affiliations of the minority of Jews who identify as Republicans. My hypothesis and theory weren’t supported by the data but in the process of exploring this question I uncovered some interesting phenomena. Mainly, Jewish Republicans are registered to vote at much lower levels than Democrats, indicating lower levels of political participation. I was also surprised to find a high correlation between having a Jewish mother and identifying as a Democrat. Anyone who can propose a causal mechanism for this relationship come find me at the reception and I’ll get to work on my Master’s Thesis.

In preparing for this speech I went through and listened to some recent commencement speeches that included Colbert, Ellen DeGeneres, JFK, and Steve Jobs. I loved the inspiring feelings and confidence that these speakers instilled in me and could picture myself sitting in the audience with each graduating class. In the words of Ellen: Usually when you’re wearing a robe at 10 o’clock in the morning it means you’ve given up. Now, you might be thinking that has happened to me before. And I’m here to tell you it will happen again. But graduation isn’t an excuse to wear a robe for the rest of your life. It’s never too late to remove the robe, get out there, and continue to share your gifts with the world.

Congratulations to the class of two-thousand and fifteen. Thank you.