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'My Minyan': Kornreich reflects on her Stanford journey

L.A. Cicero Marley Kornreich

Graduate Marley Kornreich, who gave the student Baccalaureate address, recalled how she found a diverse and compassionate community of support following the death of her mother during her sophomore year.

This is the prepared text of the Baccalaureate student address delivered by Marley Cade Kornreich on June 17, 2006.

Welcome friends and family. Welcome to the end and the beginning of a new, and surely remarkable, chapter in our lives. As we stand here together, as a community of graduates on the threshold of our future, I believe it is an appropriate time to share with you a story about my journey through Stanford as a member of the Class of 2006. I call it My Minyan, and it begins like this:

I am Jewish. But when people used to ask me about it, I used to tell them: "Well, actually, I really consider myself very traditionally and culturally Jewish, but I'm a little weak in the faith department."

That's what I used to say anyway. Things are a slightly different now; let me tell you why.

When I first arrived at Stanford, I was excited to meet my fellow students. I knew each individual came with a unique personality, background, heritage and, of course, resume chock full with impressive activities and awards. And, although I succeeded in meeting them, I failed to recognize that at Stanford, we were not just individuals anymore, but also we comprised a dramatically talented and diverse community—a community whose membership I did not realize until the end of my sophomore year.

That was when my mother passed away.

It was the end of spring quarter, and it was not until I returned to school after the funeral that I realized what I had become a part of at Stanford. It was the week before finals. We all know what that means—waiting in line to get the good spots in Green Library, drinking excessive amounts of coffee and screaming the primal yell in an attempt to purge ourselves of an ounce of stress. But this time, that wasn't the only thing I had to do.

Because I am Jewish, at least traditionally, I had to mourn for my mother in the traditional way—seven days of prayer, which we call "sitting shiva"; but it cannot be done alone. The main prayer of mourning, the Mourner's Kaddish, must be said amidst a community of at least 10 people, officially called a minyan. You see, in Judaism the most sacred prayers must be said as part of a community, because religion is not only personal, it also serves as a foundation for mutual support for each other and our faith.

And so, I needed a minyan, and I was a little nervous about finding one, especially during finals. I hadn't formerly been active in Hillel, the Jewish student organization, but I thought they could help. I contacted Hillel's Rabbi Mychal, who of course was compassionate and more than willing to help me find 10 people. Rabbi Mychal said she would send out an e-mail to the Hillel list, but she also suggested I contact my friends and ask them to come. So, my being a little weak in the faith department and in slight confusion asked her, "Well, most of my friends are not Jewish; is that OK?" Rabbi Mychal proceeded to tell me that the essence of being Jewish was community. "It's doing Tikun Olam," she said, "which means striving to make the community in which you live a better place, and your friends at Stanford are a part of your community. Invite them."

So I did.

And then to my minyan they came. My Stanford community—people from all backgrounds, religions and colors, people I knew and people I didn't—they put down their books and came to show me their support, to show me the community I was a part of, to become my minyan.

I can assure you far more than 10 people came. And as we began to pray together, amidst my sadness, I began to smile—my minyan was comforting and supportive. Rabbi Mychal was right—it truly was my community.

From that moment on I observed my Stanford community and found it was not only a Jewish tenet to look at the world and recognize the human role in a creating a more perfect one, it also was a Stanford tenet. I recognized the remarkable intellectual, athletic and creative achievements of my peers. Regardless of religion, I realized my Stanford community was marked by individuals truly trying to make the world a better place—by participating in community service efforts both locally and globally, taking part in programs like Alternative Spring Break, writing for social magazines and policy groups and engaging in social entrepreneurial activities. The Stanford student body, composed by an eclectic array of talents, diversity and genius, demonstrates true dedication to community. Yet, what is breathtaking is to acknowledge not the people as individuals but rather the community we have created together.

And this is the message I want to leave with you:

As we depart for far away places with hopes of changing the world—which no doubt we will do—don't forget where you've been, where you come from and what you have already done. Don't forget your achievements here, within our Stanford community; let them be a source of inspiration for future endeavors. I implore you to continue striving for positive change in the communities you will enter after tomorrow.

As for me, I no longer consider myself weak in the faith department, because I have faith in my community and its future. I have faith in you. So, thank you, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your community.

It has been a true privilege.