On August 13, the High School Apprenticeship Program (HSAP) class of 2018 held its graduation. Mike Boykin, a class of 2003 HSAP alumnus, was a featured speaker. His remarks are excerpted below.
As a senior prosecutor in Brooklyn, I have the rare opportunity to see some of the most unique facets of life that New York City and its over 8 million residents have to offer. I represent the People of the State of New York, and specifically the over 3 million residents of Brooklyn. My goals as a prosecutor are justice and fairness and equality. I’ve dedicated my career to it; it’s something I really believe in.
In my job, I see some of the worst that New York has to offer, and I also see some of the best. My caseload includes all sorts of matters: I handle homicides and violent crimes, I oversee long term and city-wide investigations involving financial crimes and fraud, and I also handle pattern cases involving robberies and burglaries and gang activity.
But with each of those cases, in my experience, I have found that there is usually one common denominator – in all those cases, the perpetrators have motives. They do it out of necessity, out of greed, out of vengeance or out of aggression. Whatever the motive is, no matter what it is, there is a reason driving those people.
But those are not the only matters that I handle. Another major category of cases that I handle are known as hate crimes. Hate crimes, unlike those other types, have no justification. There is nothing done out of necessity. They do not involve greed or money. There is no vengeance.
In these cases, the culprits are motivated solely out of hate. The perpetrators act because of a dislike for another person’s religions. Their determinations are based on factors such as the color of their skin, the clothing they wear, or the language they speak.
Hate, bigotry, and racism were some of the themes in Nazi Germany and in Europe during the Holocaust. Men and women were persecuted because of their religion. Children were bullied, art was confiscated, and property was seized and stolen. And why? Because of the clothing people wore and the language that they spoke. Because they were Jews. The Jewish people were demonized because of who they were. It was a period of history stained with hate.
Well, today, I am here, and now you are here, to say that that will not be tolerated.
But from the painful lessons of the past, we are guided to envision a world worthy of our future. And out of something tragic, we were inspired to secure a new beginning. Therein emerged something great: this Museum, and more specifically, your Apprenticeship, where you’ve got the unique opportunity to both learn and to teach.
As a former HSAP, I am charging you – and challenging you – with seizing this opportunity. One which enables you to learn from the past. To reflect on the history of the Holocaust and to use those lessons to improve the present and shape the future.
This evening, we are here at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, at your commencement. As an HSAP, you are here to promote the Museum’s crucial mission of educating many diverse visitors about Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust.
I look at this diverse group of Apprentices, and see a wide array of culture and ethnicity, a group rich in experiences and now empowered with knowledge. I see a group that recognizes the resilience of the human spirit and most importantly, a group that will treat everyone with humility, hospitality, and respect. These are some values which I brought to the HSAP program and have carried with me throughout my career, and these are the values with which you are now entrusted.
For what it’s worth, when I was an HSAP, the iPhone didn’t exist yet, nor did smart watches. Facebook was just gaining popularity and there was no Instagram, no hashtags. To be clear, this building had just finished construction and the staff was still settling in.
But today, over 15 years later, the concepts of tolerance and compassion remain the same. They remain timeless. Perhaps they are more important today than ever before. Use the lessons you have learned about the Holocaust and how it came to be, use your skill at relaying and retelling that story – not just to preach acceptance, but to practice it. Lead by example.
Congratulations class of 2018 and continue to make us proud.