Noah Kleinlehrer ’22 Addresses His Peers at Senior Night

Two nights before the Class of 2022 graduated, they gathered in Brauer Auditorium for an evening of celebration. The class selected Noah Kleinlehrer ’22 to offer his remarks as they begin the next part of their journey. Here is what he said. 

Good evening. Thank you Mr. Rainey, Mr. Small, Dean George, college counselors, faculty and staff, parents, and members of the Class of 2022 for joining us as we gather this evening to celebrate the MICDS Class of 2022.

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Noah Kleinlehrer and first, thank you to my peers for this honor of being the student-selected speaker. To begin, I want to quickly reflect on our time together at MICDS. You don’t realize how impactful, how special something is until it is over. I really feel this way about our time at MICDS. So before I share with you more of a speech calling on occasion, I ask you to cherish your moments and the people around you because these are special people and what you have gained here, if you realize it or not, has genuinely prepared you for the real world. Thank you to the faculty, administration, and my fellow peers for being unique and important people in my life and in the lives of each other and I will miss all of you and look forward to seeing what you accomplish.

Moving on, I was instructed by members of the faculty who organized this event that the content of my address was up to me, which personally might be a mistake. I know I am just speaking to the students when I say that, I think they know I could go on all day about faith or the many ideas and events that I have assumed this podium to talk about multiple times. But, I was also instructed to write with the idea in mind that this would be the last time we are together, and what message do I want to share with you in our final moments.

Well, first, I genuinely hope that this is not the last time that we are together, and that, humbly if I must add, is not the last time you hear from me. But I hope that to the students, this is simply a reiteration of something I have been proclaiming all year long. So, I will try to keep it engaging.

With that note, a quick story. One day, one person was talking to her next-door neighbor about something she had heard the night before. She told the neighbor, “That guy said something that really stuck in my mind. He said that all of the world’s problems could be summed up in two words: ignorance and apathy. What do you think?” The neighbor replied, “I really don’t know, and I really don’t care.” Ignorance and apathy.

For the past few years, I have been helping create and write a bill in the Missouri State Legislature and Senate that would mandate Holocaust Education in the state of Missouri. Which I am happy to report for the first time publicly that Holocaust Education has been truly agreed to and finally passed in both the House and Senate. But unfortunately, what I think is one of the main reasons I started that work has been severely misrepresented. It is this idea that you can make a difference. You, the student, you the young voices of America, you, the ordinary citizen, you. Elected officials and policy experts are not the only ones who reserve this human right to fight for what you believe in.

We, in some essence, are the ones at fault for this lack of motivation.

So, in answering the faculty question of what is the last thing you want your peers to remember when they all go off in their separate directions, it is that I beg of you, to fight for what you believe in, and to make a difference in the world. Apathy and indifference are the largest dangers to our world. It is a universal disease. It is slowly poisoning our world. Don’t believe me? Let me retort. There was once a Bedouin Chief who discovered one day that his favorite turkey had been stolen. So, he called his sons together and told them “Boys, we are in great danger now, My turkey has been stolen. Find my turkey.” His boys just laughed and said, “Father, what do you need the turkey for, it is only just a turkey,” and they ignored him. Then a few weeks later his camel was stolen. And the Chief told his sons, “Find my turkey.” Again, the boys laughed and did not move a finger. A few weeks later the Chief’s horse was stolen. His sons shrugged, they had many horses, and he replied, say it with me now, “Find my turkey.” Finally, a few weeks later the Chief’s daughter, the boys’ sister, was abducted…He gathered his sons and declared, “It is all because of the turkey! When they saw they could take the turkey, we lost everything.” The boys, too indifferent, so detached and emotionless from human dignity and humanity that they allowed for it to happen while they watched. Be that person who stands up and says this is not right. Do not allow yourself to metaphorically sit on the sidelines while injustice lives.

Even if it is to your friends, family, or peers, you must never be afraid to hold each other accountable. Never be afraid to stand up for what is right. Be a hero. You would be mine. Be the person who decided to not stand by and watch. Do not wait for it to happen. Live a life and set an example by being leaders which I am confident and know all of you are to make a change. Remember, by the time you hear about it every day on the news or on social media, it would have already been too late. Act with swiftness, and conviction…and believe that we can change the world. Never, ever in your life obtain the mindset, for anything in life, for anything that you do, that we can’t change the way things are, so why even try.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his letter from a Birmingham Jail on edges of newspaper and scraps of toilet paper that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Fight for what you believe in, whatever it is. I don’t care who you are politically, socially, or economically, simply fight for your beliefs to change the world for the better. Yes, there is a difference between what is easy versus what is right. The path to change and progress is not an easy one no doubt. But I know that it is one we have been prepared for, and one I know confidently each of you will take with you to where you continue your journey. And I do not ask that you go home right now and try to find something to do that will better our world. I mean I will go home just like everyone else in this room and celebrate with my friends and family. But I ask that you be aware. Because by the time it matters, it will really be too late.

Be the change, and live the change. We are all going to different places, in different directions. So I ask that you continue these ideals wherever you go. If we all buy in and have this mentality, our light will spread to anyone we meet. It happens whenever I speak about the Holocaust to high school classes. Have conversations, ask questions, listen to others, and lead like I know you can, and will. When these ideas spread far and wide, and there is a leader exemplifying these ideals, then we are on our way. We aren’t there yet, but gosh would we be closer than we have ever been. There is so much division in our world. We do so much better as a society and communities when we use our differences to unite us. We can work for a better tomorrow. This begins with you. You have been given the most precious thing in life: an education at an amazing institution. While I may not know if we will be using the Foreign Exchange Market Graph from Macroeconomics, or the Equation for Standard Error in Statistics, or Close Reading a page in a book written 250 years ago in an elective English class we put as our third choice, what I know what we will be using for sure, is the social and professional IQ we have gained here.

You are prepared for the real world. I don’t even remember how to calculate a confidence interval and my AP Stats exam was last week, but what I will remember is how to actively engage others and prepare for the world unknown of tomorrow. It is ever so important that young people participate and engage in our institutions. Help solve problems and have your voice heard. A quote from my hero, Janusz Korczak, is “The first, indisputable right of a child is to articulate his own thoughts and take an active role in our discussions and verdicts about him…[When all this] there will be fewer riddles and mistakes.” We are the future…and the future is bright.

I will admit I am scared of the world of tomorrow, but what gives me hope, what sometimes makes me a little less afraid, is the thought that young adults like yourselves are preparing to meet the world and its people with confidence, intelligence, and empathy. Parents and faculty, thank you for dedicating your lives to enriching your children’s and students’ lives. You have made a difference by gifting us the most precious thing in life that no one can take away from you. Speaking on behalf of our class, thank you, thank you, thank you for sacrificing part of yourselves for us.

Lastly, to the students, it has been a privilege to have walked these halls with you, and I thank you for everything. And, to what you have heard me say tens, even hundreds of times, and quite possibly the last time until we meet again: Never be afraid to stand up for what is right. You do have the power to change the world. And still today in our time of celebration and recognition, we acknowledge that we are ready to and have a responsibility to face the world and its people with empathy, compassion, and whole-heartedness. Ladies and gentlemen, parents and faculty, and my fellow peers. Thank you and congratulations.