Alumnus Andrew Isaacson '11 Gives Keynote Address at 2019 Graduation Ceremony

On Wednesday, June 19th, the Class of 2019 celebrated their graduation from Parkside with moving speeches which included candid remembrances of their struggles, shout-outs to friends and teachers who impacted their education, and a great deal of pride in the accomplishments that have prepared them to move on to middle school.

A year of accomplishments both inside and outside the classroom, the year could not have ended on a more positive note than hearing from alumnus Andrew Isaacson ‘11 who gave the keynote address at the ceremony. His speech was heartfelt and deliberate, straightforward, and the perfect summation of how Parkside prepares students to take challenges head on, to advocate for themselves, and to believe in their future. Watch his full speech or read the transcript below.

Andrew Isaacson ‘11

Let me start off by congratulating the Class of 2019 on this huge accomplishment. I know how hard you’ve all worked for the last five or six years to get to this special day.

Thank you to Ms. Miller and Ms. Thorne for giving me this unique opportunity to come in and speak to all of you today. When I was first asked to be the commencement speaker, I wasn’t sure if I was the right person for the job or if it was something I truly wanted to do. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized what an incredible honor this is and the impact that Parkside has had on my life. In fact, I could remember everyone at my graduation pleading both principles to invite them back in the future to speak.

I first enrolled at Parkside in 2005 as a tiny Kindergartener in 3-1 with Ms. Clarke. Some of my favorite memories over my six years were my Stomp performance in 5th grade, all the field trips throughout New York City, the time that Ms. Miller took me the movies after school, the games and activities I would play during my numerous therapy appointments, but most importantly the friendships I made with all of my peers and teachers.

There are some teachers I want to give a shout out to for helping me get to the point where I am today including: Mr. Alston for always allowing me to talk about my feelings and whatever difficulties I had and for always giving me a fun time, Mr. Vargas and Mr. Cruz for their endless jokes including “Curious George Meet, Greet and Eat the Hoppy”, Ms. Dolan and Ms. Scoval for allowing me to improve my social and conversational skills, Ms. Tomalski and all of the other occupational therapists for helping me become more relaxed, and lastly Ms. Ament for teaching me about manners, organization, and how to advocate for myself.

I graduated in 2011 as a giant 5th grader with Ms. Ament, but the road was difficult and challenging at times. Throughout my years I was a shy boy, I had trouble sitting still during classes and assemblies and loud noises were frightening to me. I couldn’t control my body and felt like I had to get my energy out by constantly running around the school. During classes, my teachers allowed me to take breaks, and leave the room so I can regain my focus. I ran up and down the stairs continuously until I was ready to return to classroom.

I needed the most support during assemblies because I hated it when the audience clapped for me. I would run out of the room with my ears covered and started crying outside the gym. It was embarrassing.

Thanks to teachers such as Mr. Alston, Mr. Cruz, and Mr. Vargas, they helped me conquer those fears and even helped me come up with a plan along the way. One day, before I started talking at an assembly, I asked the crowd if they could give me a thumbs up after I was done speaking, so they would not make any noise. After that I became known as the “thumbs up guy”. But that moment alone helped me feel more comfortable around large audiences and became remembered for my bravery and courage.

My years at Parkside were the biggest stepping stone towards my future success and have allowed me to be successful, no matter the circumstances. I was Bar Mitzvahed at the age of 13 where I spent over a year learning how to read from the Torah, and delivered a speech to hundreds of friends and family members in the audience. The academic motivation and dedication gained from my years at Parkside helped me prepare for those long hours I spent learning Hebrew. Because of the support I received over my six years, I felt comfortable delivering a speech to all my loved ones that night. Afterwards, I felt proud coming out of that night knowing that I hadn’t ran off the bema crying after everyone’s applause and when candy was being thrown at me.

After I graduated in 2011, I attended the Gateway Middle School for three years, another special educational environment. I then made the massive transition to a mainstream high school, York Prep and have just completed my first year of college at Lehigh University. I am studying Journalism and Political Science with a potential minor in marketing. In addition to all the academic success, I am an editor for the school newspaper and the community service chair for my Fraternity.  

The drastic educational growth is a testament to my academic perseverance and commitment, plus the way Parkside set me up for a successful future. They helped turn my biggest weakness into my biggest strengths and made me an independent self-advocate. Some of those skills have been asking for extensions when necessary, starting a paper or project days or weeks in advance of the deadline, rather than waiting till the last minute and reviewing for a test or assignment.

What makes Parkside special is that the teachers and therapists give each student the confidence that they can go far in life and succeed at any educational level no matter what challenges they have. They are willing to support any child, no matter their background and make them prepared to succeed post elementary school.

To the graduates, you have an entire life ahead of you and there’s a ton of potential for all of you. 9 years since Parkside, I have continued to faced numerous obstacles that have never put me down and have always continued to be the best person I can be. My best advice to you all is, don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to fail, it happens to everyone, never let anyone try to stop you from what you want to accomplish in life, don’t judge somebody until you really get to know who they are, never let your challenges and disabilities overshadow the joy and excitement in your lives, but most importantly be nice to your parents.

Derek Jeter said: “There may be people who have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do – and I believe that. I love it when people doubt me. It makes me work harder to prove them wrong.”

Once again congratulations Class of 2019, and to Parkside, thank you for everything that you did for me and everything that you continue to do for these fantastic graduates.

Congrats and Thank you!