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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Graduations, Promotions, and Honors Oh My!

So it's Graduation time again. The stores are filled with gewgaws and kitsch enough to fill a couple hundred dumpsters with fake mortar boards and brilliant flower displays complete with banners touting the blessed graduate, toys, gargantuan boxes of chocolates, and phalanxes of cards.

And I'm down with that.

Except when the graduate is fourteen or even five. (Unless they've managed to graduate from high school at that age--which is an extraordinary accomplishment) People in this town, and surely in many other places, have begun celebrating every little move up the scholarly ladder as if they are amazed their child made it through fourth grade intact. And maybe for some that is, indeed, a laudable feat.

But when we water down the accomplishments of those who stuck it out in school long enough to emerge with a diploma, it detracts from the whole reason we have graduations. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for Honor Roll awards and things of that sort. I applaud the efforts we make to support our students in their academic endeavors and extra curricular activities. Bring on the cheers and letterman jackets.

But there's a difference. We shouldn't be treating Johnny who barely stopped wetting his pants in school the same as someone who just earned a degree in biophysics. We need to reward the EARNING part, not just the passing through part.

The other day I went to an awards assembly for which my child was performing. The auditorium was nearly empty. Recipients arrived often late, wearing flip-flops and Daisy Dukes or slouchy pants! Applause was a weak patter. Many of the award recipients failed to even attend. The audience had been to such a surfeit of kindergarten graduations and penny ante soirées that they couldn't have cared less that these hard-working teens were winning $30,000 scholarships. The whole program was an afterthought to them.

My own child, though a straight A student, got her little award in the mail--not much of a reward for getting almost straight A's the whole year. But you can bet that the cheerleaders and sportsmen had an awards assembly.

I recently went to the U of A's school of sciences graduation. Now that is cause for jubilation! Those people have worked hard and made it through the whole gauntlet of examinations, term papers, theses, barely understandable (or not) accents by teaching assistants from foreign lands, forums, projects, and responsibilities. There were a couple of men who earned not just the two majors I left school with, but three and four majors! THAT'S something to applaud!

Right now there are mommies sitting in crowded auditoriums and cafeterias all over the state straightening the little mortar boards on their kindergarten grads. Wow. And the honor with which little Susie moves into first grade? She no longer bites her friends. Woo hoo! Jimmy has mastered his coloring skills! Cause for jubilation! Let's hand him a balloon bouquet big enough to loft him into space!

By the time he gets to his high school graduation, Jimmy will be so surfeited with balloon bouquets and blow-out parties and new cars that graduating from high school won't matter much. And why bother slogging through four or more years of hard work in college? It's not that big a deal.

I had two graduations. I worked my tail end off in high school (partly because my father was a teacher there). I earned Honor Roll every semester. I graduated in the top 10 of my class. I earned a scholarship to college. High school graduation was a BIG deal. I'd EARNED it. I'd scraped for every last credit and test score.

College took nine years for me, mainly because in the middle of it I got divorced (and later re-married) and had to take two full-time jobs in addition to nineteen college credits in order to support my child. I had enough credits for a double major by the time I graduated. I graduated with high honors after having gotten straight A's for the last seven years. THAT was a BIG DEAL. I'd worked HARD to earn every last A. I waddled up to the podium 9 months pregnant to accept my diploma (H., my third child, was born the next day).

So what message are we sending our children with this watery insipid treatment? We're saying that working hard for our education isn't important anymore. We're saying that they'll be rewarded for every little unearned lurch forward, making it so that they don't care about straining for that gold ring anymore. We're saying, "Go ahead and waste your parents money if you even get to college. Spend that time getting laid and drinking yourselves under the carpet. Education is not that important."

For those who have EARNED their plaudits, I stand up and yell at the top of my voice, "BRAVO! OUTSTANDING!" For you others, "That's nice."

And now I have to go attend my son's promotion. No balloons, just a pat on the back and a few hundred pictures.

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