Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Graduation Season is the Best

I'm putting it out there now that I am going to be a teary mess when my sons graduate from high school, and who knows what I'll do when they graduate college.  I love graduation season because it is a time when families can come together to collectively celebrate the achievement of the student as they reach an important milestone in their life.  Parents get a moment to pat themselves on the back for steering their child in the right direction and keeping them on the road towards being a productive adult.  As an educator and parent, I have a unique appreciation for this journey that families take together.  When I consider all of the things that can cause the K-12 journey to go off track, I can't help but get emotional when students make it to the finish line and share that moment with those who helped make it happen.  For some, it is the only graduation that they will experience.

It always bothers me when I attend a graduation that there is a disclaimer about families staying quiet until all the names are called.  This is an issue for me because it means that families can only celebrate for the collective, and not have their moment to celebrate their graduate, which is the reason why they come in the first place.  In some places rules are in place to remove parents who cheer "too much".  A few weeks ago, South Carolina beautician, Shannon Cooper, was senselessly arrested for "praising, woohooing and cheering it up" for her daughter Christin.  As far as I'm concerned as long as you don't turn around and punch someone as your child's name is called, you should be able to cheer as loud and as you can and as long as your graduate takes to get across the stage.  If schools are worried about families drowning out the next person's name being called, turn up the PA system a little louder.  If time is an issue, keep the prinipal's remarks and whoever else speaks to a time limit so there is more time to recognize the students.  That's what the day is all about in the first place.  I love that all of the school graduations I attended this year, realized that, and no matter how buttoned-up the school, parents could sound their air horns and whistle all they wanted.  Schools that try and deprive families of this moment are effectively slapping those folks in the face and ignoring the support they have provided the school over the years.  Those who are blessed with the honor to speak at graduation should also be mindful to remember the spirit of the day.

David McCullough became unexpectedly infamous this week because his graduation speech at Wellesley HS in Massachusetts was characterized as telling students that they were not special.  Kudos to the first news organization who began to spin his words out of context for a nice summer headline in a news cycle where we crave to hear anything that doesn't center on Romney vs Obama and the economy.  As Mr. McCullough correctly stated in his post-graduation interviews, he was just speaking to the kids, and as their teacher, he was reminding them of things he had told them throughout their years at Wellesley, and that would be "useful" as they move forward.  In looking at the transcript of the speech this nugget stuck out for me:

"As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages."

With a quote like this, it is obvious that this guy understood the moment, and wanted to give a hearfelt message to students he'd mentored over the past four years.  When it comes to speakers at graduation, this is the best approach you can take.  If Mr McCullough had taken the moment at the podium to advance some political agenda, then that would've been disrespectful.  Yes he told the students that they were not special, but his final sentence is key  "The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.  Because everyone is."  I hope that as I sit holding my wife's hand, sporting my best suit that I hear such a poignant message given to my son as he sits with the class of 2025.  I'll also make sure to have multiple handkerchiefs available for my tears. 

1 comment:

  1. Here, here, Jon. We cheered and clapped and 'wahooed' at our son's high school graduation. As did all the parents when each child's name was called. It was such an achievement for our son after relocating from the other side of the world, away from friends and everything familiar. We applauded how he'd overcome not knowing the US curriculum but managed to be on the honor roll since eighth grade until graduation. We were blessed to have President Clinton at our graduation. He encouraged the graduates to live their dreams and take chances. I hope they all do. Great words to live life by.