RHS Awards Ramy Youssef as the 2023 Distinguished Graduate

This distinguished graduate award it’s– I feel very honored to get it, but I don’t feel like its mine, I feel like its ours, and its really thanks to the teachers here

Ramy Youssef, Distinguished Graduate speech, May 12 2023

This year, the National Honors Society Advisors have selected RHS alumni Ramy Youssef (class of 2009) as the recipient of the Distinguished Graduate Award. Ramy Youssef is an award-winning Egyptian American creator, actor, producer, director, and comedian.

Youssef created, produced, directed, and starred in the hit Hulu show Ramy, inspired by his own experiences centering around a first-generation Egyptian-American Muslin on a spiritual journey in his politically divided New Jersey neighborhood. In 2020, Youssef won the Golden Globe for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Musical or Comedy” and was nominated for two Emmy Awards in the categories of “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series” and “Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series.” Additionally, the series was honored by the Peabody Awards for Excellence in Storytelling. 

Image: HBO

Youssef was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award and a Writers Guild Award for his one-hour HBO comedy special “Ramy Youssef: Feelings” produced by A24. Youssef is also a co-creator and executive producer of Netflix’s new series “Mo,” a semi-autobiographical series inspired by Mohammad Amer’s life as a Palestinian refugee growing up in Houston. The series won the Gotham Award for Best Breakthrough Series Under 40 Minutes, and was recognized by AFI as one of their top Television Programs of the year. This year Youssef will star alongside Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Mark Ruffalo in Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly anticipated film Poor Things, debuting in 2023. 

Ramy As A High School Student

“Around the school, Ramy was just a social butterfly. I never saw him rocking any boats, making trouble. He was always smiling, always making jokes. He just liked to be everywhere, to try everything” said Mr. Tim Ajala, RHS robotics teacher and former woodworking teacher.

“The biggest memory I have of Ramy, besides all of the wonderful things he did and how he pushed for a TV3 class, is his relationship with Steve Way. Steve is in a wheelchair and his health was not always great, and Ramy was by his side from then until now. And I remember every day for lunch watching Ramy standing on the back of Steve’s wheelchair whipping down Fairview Ave to get down to Park Ave to go for lunch. He really took care of Steve and that’s something I’ll always remember. That was a really special bond.” said RHS principal, Mr. Morano.

“For years, one school dominated the [Academic Decathlon] State competition, but when Ramy was a junior that school stopped competing. Everyone now had a shot at being State Champ. Well, that year it wasn’t RHS. Hanover Park won. On the bus ride home, Ramy gave a speech to the team that transformed how I approached coaching AD. He said, “Who’s Hanover Park?! They’re no better than us!” And with that, winning suddenly seemed possible. We were back-to-back State Champs the next 2 years! That’s what he did; he made those around him better,” said Mr. Narozny, RHS Academic Decathlon coach and English teacher.

“His sister told a great story, that she’d be in class writing essays, and she’d turn around and see Ramy walking by playing a guitar in the hallway and nobody would even say anything to him because they just loved him,” added Mr. Morano.

“Witnessing Ramy become the 2023 RHS Distinguished Graduate was a moment that I will always hold dear.  While at RHS, Ramy was one of those students who fully engaged in all that life had to offer. His dedication to excellence was evident as he participated in not just academics, but also all of his extracurricular activities.  He emanated joy. He exuded happiness.” — Mr. Stracco, RHS English and Public Speaking teacher.

The Award

Ramy was chosen for the award through a committee of the National Honors Society advisors, which includes Ms. Brenda Fargo, who is the research assistant to the superintendent of schools, Principal Frank Morano, and Student council president, Daniel Geltrude. As for the selection process, anyone can nominate a former graduate, and the committee meets to review the applications before making a selection. Principal Morano added that the process this year was a little bit different, because “once that application came in everyone was kind of excited at the possibility of Ramy coming back. We were ecstatic that he was nominated, and that he then accepted and was able to work out his schedule for that.” 

The Event

Mr. Mett, the school’s photography and TV teacher, nominated Ramy for the award and spoke about the details of the event on May 12th.

“Before the big presentation, he came to the band room to talk to my TV 2 class and people who were involved in the play and musical. He gave a more focused presentation and talked about his pathway to getting where he was, and what I really liked about that one was the kids got to actually ask someone famous questions. One of my favorite scenes of the day was, at the front of the auditorium after his presentation, the long line of kids waiting to come up and get a selfie with a famous person.”

He added, “it was also fun to hear that a lot of his friends from high school still keep in touch. Twenty-five years later they’re still doing collaborations and now it’s for a bigger screen. It was cool that he could come back and share it. I would love to be able to get him to do that again, to be able to talk to my TV2’s an TV3’s, basically just do a small version of that.”

Ramy speaking to TV classes and former RHS play castmembers

Mrs. Blanchard, the school’s choir teacher and play director was present at this meeting as well, and commented, “I’m thrilled that Ramy was selected to be the Distinguished Graduate because he is so deserving of the honor. I was really impressed with how humble and thankful he was. He showed genuine appreciation for Rutherford High School, and despite his fame, he has remained so down to earth.”

After his presentation in the band room, Ramy delivered his speech in the auditorium to RHS juniors and seniors.

His former teachers had a lot to say:

“There is a great saying that it is the greatest achievement of a teacher to enable his students to surpass him… As he mentioned in his speech, school isn’t just about academics, but rather the lessons gained outside the classroom.  Ramy is the perfect example of the lessons he learned outside of the formal classroom setting. His success is the success of all the teachers here at RHS.  He has surpassed all of his teachers, and that is our greatest achievement.” — Mr. Stracco

“I was really happy about the event. I’m happy that he actually received that award because it’s a way of him showing to the people coming up: “Don’t limit yourself to one area.” You can want to be a business person in life when you grow up but actually, you can know a little bit about science, engineering, technology, art. Just be well-rounded. With that, you kind of open yourself for so many angles.” — Mr. Ajala

“The buzz around here was like it’s never been before. It took me twenty minutes to get from the band room to the main office– we were late to get up there because people were stopping him, hugging him.” — Principal Morano

“I love how he talked about surrounding yourself with successful people, people who are there for you, people to make you a better version of yourself” — Mr. Mett

As teachers, we always want the best for our students, and it was so nice to celebrate Ramy and his tremendous success. It was wonderful to hear him speak, and I hope that the students were inspired by his story — Mrs. Blanchard

“I’m proud of everything he has accomplished, and I’m not at all surprised. He always seemed destined to be a success. His dedication and devotion to every passion he had was instantly apparent to anyone who interacted with him.” — Mr. Narozny

Ramy’s Advice

The message of Ramy’s speech was one of gratitude. He referenced the times when skills he learned in high school actually became useful in his life or in the lives of his friends, such as when he was able to guide a film editor in the right direction because of something he remembered from TV class. He noted, “I wish I knew earlier that there was so much meaning to the time here.”

Ramy encourages RHS students to make the most of their time in high school, to really be present in it, and seize every opportunity they can. Finally, he reminds us to thank our teachers, as he ends his speech by saying, “This distinguished graduate award it’s– I feel very honored to get it, but I don’t feel like its mine, I feel like it’s ours, and its really thanks to the teachers here.”