Saturday, June 02, 2012

Why I Don't Like High School Graduation Ceremonies

Every other year at my school we have to work at graduation.  I could easily whittle the list of responsibilities down such that we'd only need to work every third year, but that's something I can deal with another time.

I never work in the ceremony itself--I'd die.  We hold our graduations in Memorial Auditorium downtown, and I always get one of the jobs in the basement.  I work before and after the ceremony.  Before the ceremony, I'm getting the kids lined up, taking their pictures with their friends, making sure they're properly dressed, providing them with information, making sure they have their name cards for the reader to read as they walk across the stage--things like that.  The atmosphere is electric, it's like pre-game activities for the Super Bowl.  After the ceremony I'm also downstairs, handing out diplomas and saying final good-byes.  It's like being with the winning team after the Super Bowl.  I get the best of everything.  I'm actually looking forward to working our graduation this year.

Last night I attended my nephew's graduation, and all the things I hate about graduation ceremonies were on display.

His was held outside, on what appeared to be his Taj Mahal-of-a-school's soccer field.  The temperature was in the high 90s, and the bugs were having a field day.  Ugh.  I was thankful that shortly before starting, someone got on the speakers and said that they'll let us know when the kids were to start marching in, but that they wouldn't start the processional until all umbrellas (used as sun shields) were put away so everyone could see.  To my pleasant surprise, at the appointed time everyone put away their umbrellas.

That's where my glee ended.  Because as soon as the kids started walking down the center aisle to their seats up front, everyone stood up so they could see.  Of course, once everyone's standing, the view is no better than it is when everyone's sitting--in fact it's worse, because at least when everyone's sitting even the people in the distance can see the kids, who are standing/walking, over the heads of the seated crowd.  But once a few people stood up because seeing their kid is the most important thing on the planet, others had to, and then more, and pretty soon only the people lining the aisle could see.  Ugh.

Women, this one goes out special to you.  You know that high-pitched screaming thing you do?  It's like an icepick through my temples.  Do you not know how loud you are, how high-pitched that yell is, how little anyone around you wants to hear that?  Ugh.

And for all you people who bring air horns and vuvuzelas and such--yes, I know you want to cheer for your kid, and you want your kid to hear you cheer for him or her.  What you clearly don't consider, though, is that the kids are going across the stage at a rate of 10 per minute, one every 6 seconds.  While you're having a great old time, not only are the people next to you covering their ears to lessen the 120 db horns you're blowing, but the family of the child whose name is announced immediately after your kid's cannot hear their kid's name being announced because you're too busy acting low-class and selfishly trying to hog some limelight.  Ugh.

I'm not trying to be an old fuddy-duddy here, but I have to ask--when did graduation ceremonies become like English soccer matches?  When did "pomp and circumstance" give way to screaming and airhorns?  When did people stop demonstrating common courtesy to those around them?  I'm not asking for dourness or total solemnity here, but I am asking for people to be courteous to the couple thousand other people in attendance. Could you not simply clap for your kid when his/her name is called?  Do you really need to scream for several seconds, block other people's views with your signs--or my personal favorite, try to run up and hug your kid as they come off the stage, even though you've been asked not to because it gums up the works?  (OK, that last one didn't happen last night, but I've seen it before.)

My advice, suggestion and prayer:  act dignified during the ceremony, and have as much fun as you want to afterwards.

And that's just the adults.  Now it's on to the valedictorian speeches.

I joked with my sister before the ceremony started that I never work in the graduation ceremonies in part because I can't stand valedictorian speeches.  If I never again hear "Remember when we were freshman, and the school seemed so big, and then we were sophomores and juniors, and now we're seniors and we rule the school" one more time it will be too soon.  And how many valedictorians does one school need?  My school had one, and one salutatorian, but now schools have lots--my nephew's school had 6, although only 2 gave speeches.  Anyway, when the first one spoke and started with the "remember when we were freshmen" routine, my sister looked over at me and laughed.  She knew it was killing me!  Ugh.

As I listened to the first valedictorian I texted one of my friends with whom I graduated almost 30 years ago, told him about it, and asked, was my speech as vapid?  His response:  I don't remember it, I was probably thinking about getting laid.  Reading that text was for me the most enjoyable part of the graduation exercise except for watching my nephew walk across the stage!

So I survived the ceremony last night, my nephew will soon be off to a Southern California UC campus, and the world will continue turning. No ugh for that, I guess.


Mike Thiac said...


I have to ask. How does your school get 6 valedictorians?

Darren said...

I don't know how many valedictorians my current school has. When I graduated our school had 1, and my nephew's had 6 last night.

I don't know if they have 6 people all with the same gpa or if this is one of those "everyone gets a ribbon" things.

mmazenko said...

I love our graduation - it is a truly beautiful event. It's held in our football stadium, which is actually quite nice. We don't have valedictorians or valedictorian speeches. Instead, students audition to perform, and in between diploma groups, we have one musical and one spoken performance. Overall, it's quite the spectacle.

However, I will agree with you about the decorum, or lack of. As one of the readers of names this year, I was tasked with delivering the message to hold all shouts of glee until all names in a group are called. It holds pretty well early in the ceremony, but gets progressively worse. And the air horns are atrocious.

This behavior has become increasingly noticeable and worse in the past few years. In fact, I can remember some air horn blowers being escorted out years ago. I don't know that much will change. Though, as the morning went on, I was tempted to say, "I thought I told you people to cut it out. Do I need to stop this ceremony until you can grow up?"

Alas, I simply carried on reading names. Overall, it was still a very nice ceremony.

Darren said...

I like the idea of auditioning to give speeches.

Anonymous said...

Had to laugh. At our school, the noise and standing up is the same. And we had an actual arrest when someone tried to run across the field to hug her graduating sister. Which we had been instructed under NO circumstances to do because the intervening piece of field had just been sodded. My own HS graduation (30 in the class, small Methodist school) was in a church. You better believe everhyone was entirely respectful!!!

Ellen K said...

I avoid graduation like the plague. The only ones I have attended have been for my own children. Only one time have I heard a truly meaningful and entertaining valedictory address. That was at my youngest son's high school graduation. The kid was witty, astute and made several references to his Asian family that struck home with a number of the kids. Sadly, although he had a high GPA, four years later he works as a driver at Pizza Hut.

Left Coast Ref said...

Only 6 Valedictorians? The school I teach at had 31 this year. Essentially they say "Anyone over a 4.0 weighted GPA is considered a Val." in our district. There was however only one speech, given by the "Trustee's Distinguished Scholar", the overall #1.

My school holds the ceremony in our football stadium, but this year the sustained winds were at 25-30mph with gusts to 40. It was horr-uh-ble. Teachers hoods blowing all over, speeches flying off the podium (why they were using paper instead on an iPad or phone is beyond me). The horns and screaming is not only in your area. Funny thing is I spoke with a colleague on the field about how graduations aren't for the kids, they are for the peeps in the stands, but the peeps in the stands are idiots.

Chances are 4 to 1 against me going next year unless I somehow get elected to read names or present diplomas. Seeing I teach mostly sophomores, the likelihood of that is probably closer to 400 to 1.

Unknown said...

An umbrella used as a sunshade is a parasol. Math geek.

Darren said...

Toilet paper used to blow your nose isn't "tissue", it's still toilet paper.

Darren said...

Toilet paper used to blow your nose isn't "tissue", it's still toilet paper.