This week marks the end of classes and the beginning of summer for many school districts around the United States. And in conjunction with the final bell, working parents of young kids will be sheepishly asking their managers for a few hours off to celebrate their kid’s first-grade, second-grade, and perhaps even fourth-grade graduation. These ceremonies will feature the orchestral pulse of Pomp and Circumstance, mini-mortarboards and robes, rainbow-colored “diplomas”, and, most likely, a cookie and juice reception. These ceremonies are only a time-suck for overburdened parents. But more so, they water down the rite of graduation through the unnecessary celebration of a widely expected outcome. The madness must end.
To be annoyingly pedantic about the whole thing, one could argue that even high school graduation is out of step with the graduation ceremony’s historic 12th Century roots. The flat hats and thin robes, in fact, call back to the dress of medieval European University professors. They’d appropriated a practice from the Muslim world of conferring degrees to students, progressing their scholarship in order to eventually teach.
But to receive those degrees, a student had to strive and progress on their own accord. Receiving a masters or doctorate degree was a momentous occasion to be celebrated. And it still is. A diploma though? It’s just a certificate that says a kid has finished the bare minimum education required of him by some employers.
That’s what makes elementary school graduation so annoying. It doesn’t even celebrate being able to work a low wage job. There’s nothing particularly momentous or difficult about moving through elementary grades. That movement is expected and fantastically common. The lower grades are practically homogenous in their progress. What’s to celebrate?
Yes, there will be people who suggest that it offers kids a fun way to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the school year. But why can’t they do that in class? There are a host of ways that young kids can get into the end of a school year: Class picnics, field days, carnivals. And, happily, none-of-these things require parental involvement outside of overachieving PTA members that have the time.
If parents do want to acknowledge a kid’s seamless slip from one grade to another, they can take them out for pizza. They can do a Pinterest project. There’s really no reason to have a ceremony and drag everyone else into it.
This is not to say that kids shouldn’t have graduations before they roll out of a State University with a bachelor’s degree and a mountain of debt. In fact, I’m a big fan of the preschool graduation. There’s a couple really good reasons I support the ceremony for the littlest kids.
First of all, preschoolers in graduation robes are a recipe for hilarity. And it’s deeply satisfying to see a kid get a certificate after paying thousands of dollars per year so they could get a jump on knowing their colors. Finally, it’s the last moment of the earliest learning a child has before getting into the public education system. Their whole life will change from Kindergarten on. That is momentous.
Preschool graduation at least primes a parent for what’s to come, too. It’s a reminder and a hope that in 12 years there will be the second bookend. Another, much larger, cap and gown on a nearly grown up kid. And with any luck that kid will use the moment of their high school graduation to understand that, as is the case after preschool, there’s more learning to come. But how unlikely and watered down will that understanding be if they’ve worn those robes every year, just because the school year ended?