Though I wasn't particularly looking forward to attending a high school graduation last June, I wanted to honor a young friend who was graduating, in this case from the International High School in Eugene, so I went. Being with her and with her family, good friends I don't see nearly enough; remembering what she was like when I met her, a nine-year-old child swinging from a tree; contrasting that memory with the confident, joyful young woman walking down the aisle to receive her diploma; hearing the kind words said about her at the ceremony – I was so glad I could be there.
Beyond that was the graduation itself, in the Holt Center auditorium. The graduates sat on the stage in tiered seats with an aisle down the center. On each side of the stage were lecterns where the faculty spoke, alternating sides to give two or three sentences that particularized each student and told what that student would be doing after graduation. It was briskly done, and the achievements and plans were impressive. This one was a soccer player and a runner, that one won a literary prize, another spoke three languages, another excelled in music. Many were going to impressive universities: Brown, Boston, MIT. Almost all were going on to college. Maybe in a few cases the teachers had a hard time coming up with complimentary things to say ("He will be remembered for his bright smile"), but listening to the list of accomplishments and future plans, I could only marvel at these fine young people preparing to be leaders in our world tomorrow. Public school, parents, teachers – we have done a fine job.
Graduations are one of the most meaningful rituals in today's society. It's no wonder we have started including graduation ceremonies for each school students leave, from kindergarten to elementary school, from elementary school to high school, from high school to college, from a community college to a four-year college, from college at the B.A., M.A., or Ph.D. level. Each step is an achievement worth celebrating. At my son's graduation from the Atlanta College of Art, I remember the rousing cheers given a young black man as he received his diploma, and suddenly I saw what an achievement this moment marked. He graduated from college. Maybe they never thought he would do it. Maybe they had pulled and pushed him through it. Whatever the background was, whatever his grade average, here was a man who had achieved a terrific accomplishment. My respect ran high.
My granddaughter also graduated this year, moving into fourth grade at a school different from the one she had attended since kindergarten, which only goes through third grade. By now, in her eyes, it was a school for children, and she has grown up and moved on. Time to graduate. So there was a ceremony. The graduates didn't wear gowns, but they did wear caps, and they threw their caps into the air. There were no speeches but there were games and presentations to the teachers who had meant so much to the children. There was lots of singing and lots of laughing. The pictures were wonderful. What a good time they had! What a special occasion for those children.
Do you want to keep kids in school? Make it exciting to be moving to the next stage.
One of the best graduation traditions I know takes place at Central Point Elementary School here in the Rogue Valley. Graduating high school seniors who had gone to Central Point Elementary came back to the school, in their caps and gowns, to make a procession through the outdoor hallways between lines of current elementary school students and their teachers. Teachers high-fived the graduates as they walked through the school courtyard, reached out to shake their hands or give a special one a hug, the little kids clapping for them and high-fiving them, too. The graduates looked grand. They looked excited and proud. They were being highly honored. And those little kids? They were in awe. You could just feel them thinking, "That could be me. I could get there, too."
It's a big thing to graduate. It's an accomplishment to be proud of. At any level.