Back when I was growing up “graduation” meant one thing: high school. Well, it could mean college, in theory, but in my old neighborhood college was generally something that happened to other people. Mainly, though, it meant that a kid had somehow stuck it out, avoiding pregnancy and resisting the intoxicating allure of a lucrative career bagging groceries or helping Dad repair HVAC systems, and completed all 12 grades.
This was a big deal for many families. And, while I hate to sound like a geezer yelling at you to get the hell out of my yard, the simple fact is that when I was a kid, graduation meant something.
These days, not so much. As I was walking the dog yesterday morning they were setting up the grad ceremonies for the academy in the neighborhood. From the looks of things, this must have been an event for third graders. And why not. These days they have graduation ceremonies for middle school. And kindergarten. And sixth grade. Awesome. You know who else graduated from sixth grade? Jethro Bodine. And nearly everybody else in America.
I’m all for rewarding success, but I’m also painfully aware of what happens when everybody gets a gold star for showing up. Over-reward devalues real accomplishment, and it breeds cynicism. It makes it hard to tell the difference between actual praise and self-esteem boosting. You think the Millennial generation doesn’t know that it was patronized throughout its childhood years?
So here we are. Kids graduate from something every five minutes. Hey – you made it through SEPTEMBER! WOW! We should have a ceremony.
Or maybe we shouldn’t. Unless we’re talking about a child with a legitimate developmental disability, making it through third grade alive isn’t a big deal and shouldn’t be treated like one. We’ll have a ceremony when you actually accomplish something. I’m not going to tell you that completing all the requirements at Ledford High School in the ’70s was on a par with getting your doctorate from Oxford, but it was a valid rite of passage, a moment where one phase of life gave way to the next. It was more than a celebration for the student, it was a reaffirmation for the community, and was therefore a fitting and proper event to mark.
Sixth grade? Shut the fuck up, Jethro. We’ll see you in the fall.
So, for the graduating class senior class of 2013, we at S&R say congratulations and we wish you all the best in the next stage of your life.