Class of 2023, CONGRATULATIONS! Ariana Katz’s commencement speech
We would like to thank Rabbi Ariana Katz (CAS 2012) for speaking at the Sociology 2023 Commencement. The full text of her speech can be found below.
Ariana Katz is the founding rabbi of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl (SHTEE-bul), a warm and joyful congregation in Baltimore, MD. She is a queer white Ashkenazi femme 4th generation Philadelphian who sees rooted ritual and radical organizing as her Jewish legacy. Rabbi Ariana graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in the spring of 2018. Rabbi Ariana was the creator and host of Kaddish, a podcast about death and identity, and co-host of the soon to be released God Crush, a podcast about faith, heresy, and chosen family. She co-creates the Radical Jewish Calendar and is the keeper of a micro-Judaica shop based in a vegan Jewish bakery. She is the co-author For Times Such as These: A Radical’s Guide to the Jewish Year out winter 2024 from Wayne State University Press.
Class of 2023, CONGRATULATIONS!
I am honored to celebrate your amazing accomplishments with you this morning. I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to my teachers and the entire Sociology department for this generous invitation. Thank you to Matthew Dineen and Dr. Japonica Brown-Saracino for making sure I could join you today. I want to particularly thank the professors from the Sociology department who shaped me while I was at BU approximately a millennium ago, Dr. Cati Connell, Dr. Ashley Mears, Dr. Ruha Benjamin, Dr. Carrie Preston, Dr. Keith Vincent, Dr. Karen Warkentin, and Dr. Jim McQuaid. Thanks for letting me knit in class.
I have to tell you, when I graduated in 2012, I have no idea what the speaker said. I wasn’t paying attention at all, all I could think about was this cutie I had just kissed for the first time, who was moving to New Orleans after graduation. I was stressed about logisticing my family, couldn’t wait to touch the big seal, and I just wanted to finish up so I could get back to the basement of the GSU to be in the CGSA or on the porch of my collective house in Allston and keep crushing out on a perfect Boston summer day.
All of which is to say–holy moly, there are a lot of things going on for you right now. Maybe you have to pack up an apartment, you want to show your loved ones this city you’ve lived in for years, you have friends to say goodbyes to, graduation receptions to crash, teachers to try to figure out how to say “goodbye, thanks for teaching me how to think and shaping my outlook on the world” to while shaking their hand quickly and awkwardly after the ceremony.
After graduating BU I lived in Allston for another year, then moved back to my hometown of Philadelphia where I started seminary to train to become a rabbi. I moved to Baltimore after that and founded a synagogue, Hinenu, that understands our spiritual life and political organizing are one in the same, that they nourish each other. I moved from Boston to Philly to Baltimore all with that cutie from my senior year, Ever, who’s over there holding our baby!
I tell you about how I became a rabbi to invite you into a little mindfulness, to tell you I come by it honestly. If you’re an eyes closed kind of person, close the eyes.
There is so much that has been rushing, coursing to this moment. This milestone, one of the hardest things you’ve worked for. There is much asking for your attention in this moment. Take a beat to just reflect back on all it took to arrive here.
Feel your feet on the ground. Remember the first time you had to take the T and how that went. Remember running for the BUs. Remember getting lost in the weird hallways in the Sociology building.
Feel the seat supporting you. Notice all the hands that have been at your back supporting you to this moment, your families chosen and biological, your mentors, teachers, your friends, classmates, teammates. Your ancestors, the best of whom you show up as today.
Feel that graduation hat on your head. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to look like that. Allow memories of the conversations at 1am that made you think completely differently, the one essay you read for one class that you never stopped talking about, torturing your roommates, loved ones, and people on the sidewalk with.
Feel the breath in your lungs, the opportunity to give voice and word to the forces that move through the world, your training to observe how people gather, group, operate, and change. Offer gratitude for the profound privilege it is to have arrived at this moment, receive a college degree, be invited into the next phase of your life.
It’s all Data
I want to share with you maybe the greatest regulating force in my life, and it was very clearly given to me by my time in the Sociology department. And that is: DATA.
I was not much of a quantitative girly, I barely passed stats, SPSS and I were strangers. What I know is stories, people’s telling about their own lives and experiences, the information we collect about ourselves and our worlds shape our realities. So when I say DATA, I mean stories.
When I was 23 I remember calling my mother and asking her, “will I ever stop crying?” She promised that yes, indeed, there was a time in about a decade I would stop crying as much, but that it was totally normal. It was around then that I realized that my emotional space, the responses of others, and the ways situations developed around me could not just be experienced, but observed. It was then that I started collecting data.
See, rejection hurts. Its so easy to create a narrative–I’m unloveable, unhireable, so on…But where’s your proof? What did you learn about a small data pool in the last four years?
And what did you learn about an outlier?
Yes, that’s right, Dr. Brown-Saracino give them their degrees! You can’t base an entire theory off of a small data pool, or an outlier. So why let one interaction, or a set of circumstances, prove an entire theory of yourself or another person?
Over the last four (or so) years you have had the opportunity to transform your thinking selves, your emotional selves, and your world. You know that it didn’t happen overnight, rather it was a collection of moments, relationships, ideas, that shifted who you are. So, I offer this to you–do not allow any one moment, any one misstep, disappointment, or even success drive the entire story of who you are, or how you are doing.
Instead, collect data. I’m an old lady–my senior thesis (that I barely got passed oy va voy) was on THREE BY FIVE CARDS. Collect data about the world around you, the people you surround yourself with, and the way that power moves in our world. Be ready to re-shape your theories with data. But don’t let your world be shaped by a small amount of information. It’s just data.
You might not be able to be there in the moment, but we can be grateful for it all the same. “It’s all data” has allowed me to be braver, take risks. They’re just experiments after all.
So armed with more data than ever, how will you interpret it? What will it lead you to do? I want to invite you to allow the next ten years to be data collection. Go into the world prepared to continue learning from it, observing it, allowing yourself to be transformed by it. No one moment is a referendum on your worth or the worth of another, no one data point can predict your future. You who were in your first year March 2020 certainly know that.
As sociologists trained to observe and to teach us how you see the world moving, I beg of you, keep doing so. Teach us your understanding of privilege, of hierarchies, of control, of racism and transphobia and the brutalizing of holy bodies by the state, of how institutions are not people and must be guarded against at all times. Bring the profound privilege of this training, this access to the Ivory Tower, and use it for good. Treat yourselves well as you pursue a deeper understanding of the data you gather about yourself and our world.
May the joy of this moment beget more joy, the learning beget more learning, the curiosity beget more curiosity. Class of 2023, Congratulations on this incredible achievement!