Author: Schwartzman, Bryan
Date published: June 14, 2012
Journal code: JWEX
During his senior year of high school, Jake Tapper wanted nothing more than to be selected as one of four student speakers at graduation. But it was not to be.
Instead, 25 years later, the 43-yearold senior White House correspondent for ABC News was delivering the commencement address last week for his alma mater, the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy - having been invited by the 2012 senior class.
He told all those gathered for the ceremony on June 6 that the thoughts of his target audience undoubtedly lay elsewhere, that the seniors seated behind him "might not even be hearing the words I'm speaking right now," and that "most, if not all of you, will forget what I'm about to tell you."
With that caveat in mind, the journalist, author, television personality and married father of two used a blend of wit and earnestness to offer up a list of things he wished he knew at age 18.
His advice ranged from the practical - niceness doesn't count in the professional world, employers will hire you because you've got something they want, so become the thing they want - to the morally instructive: Lashon hara, or speaking ill of others, can really come back to haunt you.
"Here's what the rabbis didn't want you to know," he said. "Lashon hara is fun. Gossiping, badmouthing, snickering about other people - it's kind of what I do for a living," he said, evoking laughter from the hundreds of people packed into the sanctuary of Temple Adath Israel in Merion Station. (The ceremony took place across the street from the building that had housed the institution - then known as the Akiba Hebrew Academy - for most of its history before it moved to its Bryn Mawr location three years ago.)
"Gossip always gets back to the person you are gossiping about," said Tapper, who in 1998-wrote an article in which he dished about his date with the infamous Monica Lewinsky; the date happened in late 1997, a year after she left the White House, but before she became a household name due to her affair with President Clinton. As she was being eviscerated in the media, his portrait was largely flattering.
"Alliances shift and friendships change and people you thought were trustworthy are not. In college, at work, in political circles, how you conduct yourself when talking about others will be held against you," added Tapper.
Tapper, who grew up in Center City and Wynnewood and belonged to Temple Beth Hillel-Beth Bl, began his talk by congratulating his 12th grade history teacher, Sharon Levin, on recently being named Barrack's head of school, calling her idealistic and a mensch.
Tapper was involved in an incident that has become infamous in school history. A gifted cartoonist, he designed a page for the 1987 yearbook full of balloons that if folded a certain way - a la Mad magazine - the image transformed into a part of the male anatomy. The prank caused an uproar: Tapper and several others received empty diplomas at graduation and had to complete 75 hours of community service to graduate. A quarter century later, Levin made light of the events.
As Tapper spoke, the school's 54 graduating seniors sat behind him: The girls wore white gowns, the boys
blue, the colors of the school and the state of Israel. The proceedings began with the singing of "God Bless America" and closed with "Hatikvah." The school's 62nd graduation ceremony also included a lengthy student address conducted entirely in Hebrew by graduating senior Yaakov Malmolet "We will have an obligation to continue to build Jewish communities in the spirit of pluralism and love of Israel that we have learned here," Malmolet said, according to a translation of his speech. "The love for Israel that we feel is a crucial feature that we can bring to the wider Jewish community"
Graduating seniors were accepted into 35 colleges and universities, including the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. Students are also slated to take part in 10 different Israel gap year programs and one is planning to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
In terms of achieving professional success, Tapper told the audience that it took him a few years to find his passion, noting that he got a late start in journalism.
He began his career as a press aide to former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a Democrat from " Pennsylvania who served just one term from 1992 to 1994. He worked in public relations for several years. It wasn't until 1997 that he took a job - and what he called a substantial pay cut - at the Washington City Paper.
Over the next five years, he published two books, Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency and Body Slam: The Jesse Ventura Story, wrote for various print and websites, and started appearing on cable television. He was hired by ABC News in 2003 and has experienced a meteoric rise, being named chief White House correspondent in 2008 and for a time, in 2010, he served as interim anchor of ABC's "This Week" Sunday morning show.
In perhaps more typical graduation speech fare, he urged the students to follow their passions, avoid taking the easy route and to never give in. Citing Henry David Thoreau's invective to "suck the marrow out of life" - a line from Thoreau's Waiden - he also encouraged graduates to take responsible risks and make the most of opportunities. Tapper said he still regrets rejecting a friend's offer to backpack across Europe when he was 19 - once he got finished being a counselor at Camp Raman in the Poconos, that is.
"I didn't do it because it was easier to not do it, because I was a little scared to do it, because I figured I had my whole life to do it. That was the wrong decision. Here I am 24 years later talking about it," he said. "I don't know where you are going to meet your spouse, but I'm pretty sure it won't be in your apartment I don't know where you are going to have your greatest adventure, but it won't be watching TV"
After the ceremony, students and families filed into the synagogue's social hall for a dessert reception.
For the Shore family of Ardmore, the graduation marked the end of anera. For the past 17 years, at least one Shore child has been a student at the school, and now Doron, like his older sister and brother, has graduated. "I feel amazing and excited to graduate with my best friends," said Shore, who next year will be participating in a Habonim Dror program in Israel. "I am really excited for the next step."
Did anything the commencement speaker say stick with him? He paused for a moment before he said, "Never give up and don't miss opportunities."
Jewish Exponent Staff