It’s the season of graduations and my newsfeed is filled with caps and gowns and diplomas. This year, I had two kids doing the Pomp and Circumstance walk. One was graduating high school and the other finishing middle school. They were beautiful ceremonies, filled with speeches and video montages, and weeping parents bursting with pride.
I wasn’t alone of course. And my kids’ graduations weren’t unique. In the week that they graduated from their respective schools, I saw posts from kindergarten graduations, pre-K graduations, 5th grade graduations, and, God help us all, 3rd grade graduations. There were tons of “moving-up” ceremonies, kids crossing the hallway into new classrooms in ceremonies replete with gowns (but no hats) and heartfelt speeches.
It reminded me of that scene from The Incredibles when Mr. Incredible, exasperated by his son’s “graduation” from 4th grade to 5th, yells out “It’s psychotic!”
And in truth, he has a point.
A graduation marks a milestone. Finishing high school and starting college. Out of middle school and into high school. But all of these mini-graduations that have silently insinuated themselves into schools across the country have made these larger moments that much more insignificant. Worse, by celebrating every nuanced moment in education, kids learn that they should always be celebrated even when it might not be warranted.
I’m not saying it isn’t cute. Watching 4 year olds in caps and gowns certainly provides great Instagram moments. But as a larger issue, and one Mr. Incredible bemoaned in that same scene, are we simply looking for “new ways to celebrate mediocrity?”
Because let’s be real. Discussing a four year old’s accomplishments as he gets a diploma borders on ridiculousness. Finishing fourth grade doesn’t require a ceremony. At most, maybe some ice cream and balloons and a “Good Luck Next Year!” banner.
I get 8th grade. I get 12th grade. I can even get Kindergarten. (Though graduating Pre-K disturbs me on a grammatical level. How can you graduate anything that is “pre?” That prefix alone implies another step! Jeez!) But all of these end-of-the-year ceremonies have gotten out of hand.
It also adds undue stress. I remember my big transition into Middle School, years ago. It consisted of moving across the hall and a quick reminder in a memo that we would switch classes throughout the day. That was it. One year I was in 5th. The next year I was in 6th and I needed a Trapper Keeper.
Now, there’s a “graduation” from 5th grade, a constant reminder that even though you might just be across the hall, YOU ARE IN A WHOLE NEW WORLD! And this is MUCH harder! And you might be STRESSED!
I mean, it’s possible that you’ll be nervous. Much the same way that any new year presents new things to be nervous about. New teachers. New friends. New lockers. It’s called growing up. It’s called reaching for a goal. It’s called climbing the educational ladder. There are milestones to that journey and they didn’t always come every year or every semester.
My kids have had graduations for years. I have all the pictures and all the family shots from pre-K and on, dutifully posted with “I’m so proud of my baby!” captions. But this last one, watching my daughter finish high school, was the only time I felt that it was truly a graduation. A valediction. That she was really going off into the world. That she accomplished something, not over four years, but over twelve.
I’m definitely coming from a jaded perspective. I was much more excited when my oldest “graduated” Kindergarten. Much less so when my youngest walked across the pre-K stage to get his diploma in cutting, shape-making, and block center. Watching my kids go through school provided me with the ability to see past the Instagram pics and focus on what is really important in their education, in their lives, and in their milestones.
My mother used to tell me that your perspective on child-rearing can’t extend beyond your oldest child. Experience teaches us so much more than the textbooks and articles. In some ways, then, my daughter’s graduation from high school is also my own graduation into a new stage of parenting.
So, with apologies to all the newly minted pre-K kids, all the proud parents of the third grade commencements, and all the 5th graders moving-up, this new frontier that I have been launched into makes me wonder if all those years of graduations really were nothing more than photo-ops. Sort of a metaphorical pat on the back for simply going to school. Cute and sweet, though over time, perhaps wearisome and boring.
This year, I’m celebrating two actual graduations (not including my own).
And damn, I am proud.