There Are Too Many Damned Graduations (For Kids)

So I’m at work the other day, and a 20-something-year-old co-worker asks me to switch days with him. He stated that it was very important to him that he have that particular upcoming day off because he wanted to travel out of town to attend his younger brother’s 8th grade graduation. Being from an older generation, I found his reason to be another one of those "WTF?" moments that makes me not only question whether society has lost its collective flipping mind, but whether or not today’s breed of parents tend to coddle their children to the point of instilling in them a sense of entitlement rather than working to accomplish something truly meaningful. What I’m talking about is this recent propensity to have a “graduation ceremony” at nearly every grade level.

Based on this practice, the average American youth can expect to have somewhere in the range of 5-8 graduation ceremonies by the time they reach college age—depending on how zealous their local school districts are in promoting the make-everybody-feel-like-a-winner ethos. Many of these feel-good and somewhat elaborate ceremonies involve children at whatever “graduation” level donning caps and gowns, and marching in unison toward an undeserved “recognition” of center stage to the applause parents...and to the tune of Pomp And Circumstances to receive their “certificates of ‘achievements.’” I have read and/or have heard about “graduations” for pre-schoolers, Kindergarteners, 3rd-grades, 6th-graders, and 8th-graders. Call me old-fashioned, but a true recognition of a long-fought and hard-earned effort should be given for true milestones and real accomplishments, such as the traditional rite-of-passage passage from childhood to adulthood—high school graduation.

I liken this insanity to the level of those who would dress up their (primarily) little girls up in high heels, makeup, and wigs, while parading them on a public stage in what is ostensibly called a “child beauty pageant.” These events really aren’t for the kids. They are for the adults. And that just seems wrong.

When did we become a society where we feel we have to reward our kids for doing the things they are supposed to do? Working to be promoted to the next grade is an expectation, not an excuse to placate parents who want to feel as though they have helped their children over a major hurdle in life. I understand that parents think childhood ceremonies for children are “cute,” but they seem to reinforce the notion that almost everything a child does—from moving into the next grade to successfully completing potty training—should be an opportunity for celebration. Children should be expected to progress from Kindergarten, elementary school and middle school. Why do we need to hold a graduation ceremony when they do something that happens in every school across America every year? Believe it or not, there was a time in America when completing a year of school wasn't so much an accomplishment as it was something expected of you, like chores, taking a bath, or doing homework. Now, combined with the “every-kid-gets-an-award” mentality that compels us to acknowledge mediocrity in our young people, it's a small wonder that kids (as well as their parents) today feel entitled rather than accomplished.

Simply put, the standard for graduations—real milestones—should be based on reality, not a feel-good approach; the greater the accomplishment, the more ostentatious the celebration. Completing the minimum requirements for a compulsory education is simply not a true milestone…especially at the lower levels of an education experience that’s expected to be endured until one’s 18th birthday. All of these empty graduation “ceremonies” cheapens the value of genuine rite of passage events such as graduating from high school, marking the transition into young adulthood. They drain the real celebrations of any meaning whatsoever.

Graduations should be reserved for that special time when young people have put in the work and effort that truly symbolizes having reached a milestone, such as completing high school or college; being promoted to the next grade not one of those times.

There is a difference between loving our children, and loving our children too much. If you’re focused on doing things that instill in your children a true sense of accomplishment for a job well-done, who instructs your children that there are sanctions and rewards, helping them learn that losing means that they have to work harder to be better, and who focuses on their needs…then you are loving your child. If you are in the habit of making excuses for your child’s behavior—BS “conduct disorders" notwithstanding—no matter how questionable, who feels that their child is deserving of special dispensation no matter how unmotivated, mediocre, and half-assed the effort s/he puts forth, and who is obsessive about your child’s happiness—focusing on their wants (rather than their needs)…then you are loving your child too much (and no, that’s not a good thing).

Let’s stop the graduation madness!

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Michael Maynor 3 months ago

I totally agree with this post. I work at a university that has a pre-school. They recently had a graduation ceremony and at the end the parents and kids went out to the playground. I saw quite a few parents dressed in suits and dresses/skirst and blouses. Many parents don't even dress that nice for their children's college graduations. I've also seen that in recent years High School graduations are trying more and more to mimic college graduations. Many colleges and Universities give medals to those graduating with undergraduate degrees. Now many high schools are doing the same. I just hope that High Schools don't start donning their graduates with the hoods of master's recipients or the robes of a P.H.D. recipient.


Dean 3 months ago

I used to be a senior advisor at a high school in charge of organizing the 12th grade ceremony. I quit because it was deemed a right, rather than an accomplishment. Students no longer take the ceremony seriously because they have been inundated with recognition for everything they do. Even if students can't pass high school in a traditional sense, administration makes efforts to place students in alternative programs, sometimes at the last minute, to get them to graduate. Students engage in behavior they are warned will prohibit them from participating in ceremonies, knowing they will never be held accountable because we can't take away their "right" to cross a stage. Even now, the latest trend is positive behavior intervention strategies (PBIS). Kids are rewarded for EVERYTHING. Nothing is intrinsic, everything must be rewarded. It's ridiculous and sad.

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