Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Graduation Season

We’re just about to enter graduation season, and that means all across America people will be spending huge amounts of time and energy to go sit somewhere and wait to leave.

My daughter and son both “graduated” from daycare. Yes, I was glad that they had mastered the pre-school skills. I honored and respected their achievements on the monkey bars and in the sand box, and I understand the impulse to mark the occasion of “moving on,” and yet, I found the idea of a graduation ceremony ridiculous.

Thankfully, there was no “commencement speaker,” but I suspect this may be the only time. In the upcoming years, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, there will be hours spent dressing up, waiting for my children’s names to be called, then going out for a celebratory meal.

The event itself consists mostly of waiting. We wait through the speakers. Then we wait and watch our sons and daughters, family and friends, troop by, almost indistinguishable in the auditoriums and gymnasiums. We wait as the names get read out for the one or two we recognize. Then there is the fleeting feeling of Finally!. Then we wait some more. If we can’t resist, we check our cell phones or fake faintness and sneak out. Sometimes we actually listen and wonder about the language. What are the “rights and privileges” conferred by a degree? Discounts? Club memberships? The right to move up in line?

With its tedium and its deliberate design to remove traces of individuality, the ceremony itself often seems symbolic of the worst of the education process.

Then there are the speakers. Why is it that no one on the “platform” can seem to resist dispensing advice? The official song of graduation should not be “Pomp and Circumstance,” but “Everybody’s Talking at Me.”

We nod our heads, laugh at the right time, even clap, yet immediately forget what’s been said. Is there anyone who remembers advice from a graduation ceremony? (Their own, not one that they googled like the addresses by Steve Jobs or J.K. Rowling.) Is there anyone who suddenly thought, “My God, he’s right. I should live for today. I should take risks/be happy/be all I can be.”

Some speakers go on and on with a laundry list of Dos and Don’ts as if they’re Moses. I’m not sure where this practice originated. Often it feels like the professor who, after the bell has rung, insists on saying “wait, just one more thing,” trying to jam in some last information, but it’s too late. At graduation, those present have either been educated or not. It’s done. Let them go. And let us go.

So, I propose that we commence with ending commencements. Keep them for when they’re important. Fifth grade? No. Eighth grade? No.

And if we must have speakers? Here’s my advice to them. No more advice

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