On September 12th, 2018, I had the honor of speaking at my alma mater’s convocation, the welcome ceremony to the class of 2022. Here are my unedited remarks.
President Raab, Distinguished Faculty, Hunter College Staff, and Class of 2022:
Thank you for the inviting me to address you today. It is a great honor.
If there is one message I want to send you off with today is that you should believe in yourself.
Now that we got out of the way, I want to spend the next few minutes telling you why by sharing my own story, which I hope many of you find relatable and, hopefully, inspirational.
Like many of you, I was not born in this country. I was born in Israel. I came to New York City in the Summer of 1990 when I was 9 years old. My mother, Roni — who is in the audience today — moved us here because she fell in love with an American man, Howard, who eventually went on to become my stepfather.
Needless to say, I therefore didn’t have much input in choosing where I would grow up and subsequently spend the rest of my life. And, like many of you, I was not too pleased with having to leave my childhood home for a foreign country that I didn’t know, whose language I didn’t speak, and where I had no friends.
At the time of the move, my English vocabulary consisted of the words “cat” and “dog,” so for a whole year, my mom sat down with me every day after school to help me do my homework.
Immigrating at such a young age was traumatic and the experience caused me a lot of social anxiety so I used computers as my escape. I started playing video games, building them, and eventually programming them.
I chose Hunter College because I needed stability in my life. I was working part-time building websites so I didn’t want to leave that job where I was making good money. I was living at home so I was feeling safe and secure. And, most importantly, I was in the greatest city in the world, surrounded by my friends.
Growing up in the city, I didn’t need to go so far away to college in order to experience adulthood — each of us has matured at warp speed and experienced so many unique things things just by living here.
Today, looking back to that decision 19 years ago, I am so thrilled and proud to be a Hunter alum. I got an affordable, high quality education from a public school. This put on me on a path, that while not straight, got me to where I am today.
I’d like to share with you what happened to me thanks to the decision to attend Hunter College.
First and foremost, there was a girl. I met a fellow student named Joann Mercedes who is in the audience today. She wasn’t just my first love, she was my first — and so far only — Dominican girlfriend. Now keep in mind, I am Jewish. She spoke Spanish and I spoke Hebrew. We were together for about three years. She learned what it’s like to date a whiteboy and I learned how to speak Spanish. Joann, thank you for opening my eyes and being such a supportive and caring partner at that time.
Second, Hunter allowed me to work throughout college. While that delayed my graduation by a year and I graduated in five years instead of the traditional four years, I made money on the side, which is, as we all know, mission critical if you’re trying to make it in in this city.
Third, going to Hunter allowed me to spend time in NYC, my second hometown. This gave me the opportunity to build up my network in NYC politics, which I was passionate about at the time. This network is how I got my first job out of college with former Congressman Charles Rangel, who represented Upper Manhattan for 40 years. I served him and his constituents for four years and If I didn’t stay in NYC this great opportunity wouldn’t have presented itself to me.
Fourth, Hunter expanded my horizons and pushed me intellectually.. After a miserable freshman year where my GPA was a 2.5, I got myself together and graduated with a 3.6, cum laude. I took an array of courses in subjects from political science to psychology to economics to colonialism in Africa. I learned so much in a diverse environment, which is so much more powerful than the homogeneous environment most schools offer. The academic rigor at Hunter prepared me to go to to Georgetown a few years later where I got my MBA in 2010.
Fifth, Hunter opened the door for my study abroad. I spent a semester in Tokyo in 2003 and it was unforgettable experience for so many reasons.
Finally, all of these experiences put together gave me the resources and help to start my own software company, Social Tables, seven years ago in 2011. Today, my company, which is based in Washington, DC has 115 employees and 5,000 customers.
As I’ve shared with you this today, I have had several challenges and opportunities in my life, all of which I have grown to appreciate because they made me who I am and got me to where I am today. The one thing that has kept me going is that I believed in myself every step of the way. And the only reason I was able to have that kind of confidence and courage is because of my mom’s wisdom and support. No matter what happened, she said to me in Hebrew: “Kol hachaim beit sefer” or, roughly translated, every day is a school day. I hope you remember these words while attending Hunter and for many years thereafter.
It’s my pleasure to be one of the first people to welcome you to a thriving community of New Yorkers. As you rush in and out of the school, between family obligations, your jobs, and your classes, just remember that people like me walked the same halls just a few years ago.
Good luck and welcome to Hunter.