Suffering Seniors; Kudos to Rabbi Novack

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Suffering seniors

Lately I haven’t been able to stay on task at all. I start something and then get easily distracted. Focusing on conversations seems a chore and my eyes gloss over when reading anything deeper than People magazine. 

Mostly all I want to do is binge-watch HGTV because the way I see it, the world needs less Kim and Kanye and more Chip and Joanna. (I actually read that on a dishtowel my stepdaughter gave me for Mother’s Day. But I definitely believe it to be true.)

Right before I started this column I spent the better part of an hour trolling the web, checking to see who was delivering commencement speeches at universities around the country. I was curious (and looking for anything to keep me from doing real work) because my friend and colleague, Jewish Community Relations Council former executive director Bayta Abramson-Goldstein, was asked to give the commencement speech at Fontbonne University last Monday, which I’m sure we all can agree is an amazing honor. Even more so when you consider the company she’s in: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; actors Matt Damon and J.K. Simmons; composer, playwright and actor Lin Manuel Miranda (of “Hamilton” fame); filmmakers Spike Lee, David Lynch and Ken Burns; comedian and TV host Seth Meyers; U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, among others. They all have been tapped to offer wisdom to this year’s college graduates.

Batya so eloquently said she feels this distinction (she is also receiving an honorary degree) “flows from the rich connection that has been created between Fontbonne University and the Jewish community.” I have no doubt her speech will amplify this connection and leave Fontbonne graduates moved and inspired.

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Then I thought: What would I say to graduates to move and inspire them? Remember to wear sunscreen?

Honestly, the idea of having to say — or write — anything of substance in my current semi-comatose state is overwhelming. And that’s not OK, considering that I write for a living.

Then, last night, while folding laundry I had left in the dryer since Passover, it dawned on me: Perhaps I’m suffering from senioritis.

I’m not talking about senioritis as in getting old, though yes, I am (then again, aren’t we all?). I believe I caught my case of senioritis from my son, who graduates from high school on Sunday.

For those unfamiliar, senioritis is a disease that often strikes high school seniors. According to several clinical sources (also found while combing the internet), symptoms include laziness, lack of focus, and an excessive wearing of sweatpants, groaty basketball T-shirts, athletic shorts and oversized hoodies. It also features a lack of studying, repeated absences and a generally dismissive attitude.

Near as I can tell, Jackson first exhibited signs of this affliction mid-junior year when, explaining a slip in some grades, he said to me, straight-faced, “Mom, honest, a C is as good as a B.” By the time he was accepted to his first choice of college in December, he, like many of his peers, had pretty much checked out of high school. Contributing, too, was something called “senior privileges,” which meant several days a week he didn’t need to be at school until after 9 a.m. 

As a parent, I don’t think I’m unreasonable. I am neither a hover mother nor do I expect my kids to make stellar grades. I am all about average. Average has worked well for me all these years, it can work for them, too. But I do believe in completing assignments and studying. In the throes of senioritis, meeting these expectations can be a real challenge. 

Don’t misunderstand, Jackson is a terrific kid. Whereas I was a walking anxiety attack in high school, he is laid-back, self-assured without being cocky and very funny. He cares about people, is kind, and so smart about the stuff that matters the most. Grades may mark the end, but Jackson is all about the journey. I admire and respect him in more ways than he probably will ever know, and am proud of him every day.

They say the only known cure for senioritis is something called graduation. Maybe on Sunday, when Jackson receives his high school diploma, I will be able to function normally again and get my head back into the game.

Of course my boy will be leaving for college in August. Hmm, does anyone know if binge-watching HGTV helps with empty nest syndrome?

Kudos to Rabbi Novack

Congrats to Rabbi Hershey Novack, co-director of Chabad on Campus, who is being honored as one of America’s most inspiring rabbis by the Forward, a national Jewish newspaper. His name will be included as part of a larger list published next week by the newspaper, honoring these rabbis for their charismatic leadership within the local Jewish community.

According to the Forward, “In a time of growing secularization and general anxiety about the country’s future, (these) leaders are swimming against that tide and giving their communities a sense of strength and purpose. These women and men are inspiring their congregations, strengthening the local community’s sense of Jewish identity and finding new and compelling ways for Jews to connect with their history, faith and culture.”

Novack, who heads Chabad on Campus with his wife, Chana R. Novack, called the honor, “humbling,” adding, “This honor is not a personal achievement. Rather it is an affirmation of our team’s collective mission to deliver accessible and meaningful Jewish experiences. 

“Young people from St. Louis and across the nation choose St. Louis for their education, and Chabad on Campus contributes to their journeys as adults and as Jews. Our successes matter to them, to the St. Louis region, and to the Jewish people as a whole.”

Each year, the Forward receives hundred of nominations of deserving rabbis from across the countries and selects anywhere from 25 to 35 to include in its annual list.