Heidi (Birnbaum) Aaronson ’96 delivered the following speech at Schechter’s graduation as she accepted the Arnold Zar-Kessler Outstanding Alumni award. Pictured: left – present day; right – fourth grade.
I knew from a very early age that I wanted to become a dentist, and Schechter helped nurture and encourage that desire from the very beginning.
When I was in first grade, my father was invited to speak to my class about what a dentist does. To this day, I remember being so proud of him and the work he did and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, too.
Three years later, my fourth grade teacher, Susan Bloom, asked my class to write a report about anything that interests us. So, naturally, I wrote about root canals and dental implants. Shortly after my dental school graduation, I received a beautiful letter in the mail from Mrs. Bloom, telling me how proud she was of me and that she remembered how much I loved dentistry, even as a child.
In fifth grade, I won the award for the “most hygienic Purim costume,” when I dressed up as a tube of Haman-fighting toothpaste. Back then, David Wolf referred to me as his “Favorite Heidi,” since he had never had another student named Heidi. Fifteen years later, I was sitting on an airplane, about to head to my very first sports dentistry conference, and I heard a voice say “Is that my favorite Heidi?” I looked up and saw David Wolf standing in the aisle of the plane.
For my fourth and fifth grade teachers to still remember me years after I was in their classroom shows just how much Schechter teachers care about their students. We are not just another face or another name year after year. Teachers care about their students well after graduation. They remember their names, they ask about their families, and they genuinely care about their lives.
In eighth grade, my Hebrew teacher, Ruti Peled, asked every student to write an essay titled “In Twenty Years”. My mother recently found my essay, and I’d like to read it for you today. “I hope that when I am 34, I will have finished college and dental school, and I also wish to work in my dad’s dental practice. I know that I will be a dentist and I will have 3 children. I will have two children by the time I am 34, but I want three children. In our yearbook they wrote that in 20 years I will be a hair stylist. That was a joke because that’s the last thing in the world I’d ever be. I am positive I will be a dentist”.
It has been exactly twenty years since I wrote that essay, and I can honestly say, I nailed it. And part of the reason why I was able to fulfill my dreams, succeed in school and become a dentist, marry an amazing man and raise our two beautiful daughters in a loving, Jewish household is because Schechter instilled in me a love of Judaism, a passion for learning, an understanding of the need for tikkun olam, and most importantly, showing me that no matter what you want to do in life, anything is possible. My daughter, Abby, just turned 6 this past Saturday, and her kindergarten teacher, Sondra Kaminsky, put together a “birthday book” for her with beautiful pictures and messages from her friends. At the end of the book, Sondra wrote up an interview she did with Abby. One of the questions was “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, and when I saw that Abby’s answer was “a dentist”, I know that in another 20 years, we might discover she’s nailed it, too, because Schechter creates an environment that enables its students to be confident in who they are and prepares them to take on the world, filling them with the knowledge that they can accomplish just about anything.
I have always been proud to be a part of Schechter, and it is an honor to know that Schechter is proud of me. Thank you.