I’ve never been into graduations. I am happy for the graduates who themselves are happy, and I like to see proud families, but the event itself never grabbed me. And now graduation fever has taken hold. Kids get a rite of passage ceremony for all kinds of things. We have kindergarten graduations and even pre-school graduations. School systems with multiple tiers have students who “graduate” from middle school or fifth grade.
I’m sorry if this is coming off as curmudgeonly (perhaps I’m just following my idiom…). Indeed, many graduations are lovely affairs, “commencements” marking the beginning of students’ lives, and graduations for little kids are cute. I also know that many schools put a lot of time and effort into making graduation an important and memorable event.
I grant the formal recognition of an educational end point. Human beings like and often need ceremony, a mark of closure. Graduation, even though usually packaged as “commencement,” as beginning, serves that purposes. The ceremony itself is what is important (especially since often the little scroll case they hand you is empty and the actual diploma will arrive by mail weeks later).
Also, my stance might appear callous and privileged, since I do know it can be stunning to learn how many people never finish their educational journeys. According to The Atlantic, high school graduation rates are soaring at near 75% — way better than it used to be. So for many, graduation is momentous: Those families with a first-generation grad or those in situations in which significant challenges were overcome to get by.
So for those well-meaning folks and reasons, don’t let me be a wispy, sad little privileged cloud. It’s just that for me, I’ve never been one much for graduation, and now, I wonder if our overzealousness with graduations waters down the really important markers of educational passage. Kids expect a big party because they’re going to high school or college. They want a gift, sometimes a major one. They want everyone all proud because they’re — whee! — going into sixth grade.
Sorry Warnock kids, but I expect you to graduate kindergarten and 8th grade, much as I expect you to graduate high school. If you choose to attend college, I won’t feel all triumphant and wiggly if you graduate from there either. Now, if you slog through an advanced degree or tough professional certification, that may bring parental bliss on my part when you get your piece of paper.
Maybe this is just my own twisted frame, and I should change it. But I look back on my own graduations. Even though I was one of the first in my family to receive a college degree, it wasn’t much of a big day. High school was less. In fact, I realize that other than my last degree, the doctorate from Temple, I never thought about not finishing, and I was lucky, fortunate, and hard-working enough (and when I was younger, just hard-working enough) to complete the course. I don’t think this was hubris on my part, at all, since I didn’t start to accelerate my scholarly persona until college, just that I wasn’t surprised with the progress. I also think it has something to do with my belief in finding value in the journey more than the destination.
But all those lofty contemplations aside, I suppose I wonder if graduations are another emblem of our time of over-recognizing youthful accomplishments, and I worry that if we celebrate every marker, we’re adding diplomas to their walls much the way we’ve added trophies to their bookshelves: Lots of bling for minor, and perhaps quite reasonable, accomplishments.