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Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Today my 8th graders had their official graduation ceremony and luncheon. I think that if I had a graduation at all when I was in 8th grade, it was at the end of the day in the school cafeteria.

Things are different today. When I was a kindergarten teacher, we had a special graduation. Then, when I was a 5th grade teacher, we had a much more elaborate graduation ceremony. It kept growing and growing until it was moved into a theater and kids were taken out of school to get their hair and make-up done professionally.

That was all public school. And poor ones at that.

Now, in my private school, 8th grade graduation is a huge affair.

We also have it in a theater. Our students are dressed exceedingly well. As are the teachers, by the way.

The ceremony starts with a slide show of our students since they were babies onward. The slide show takes about 10 minutes and is filled with oohs and aaaws and laughs and surprises.

Then our school band play "Pomp and Circumstance" (sounds a little dead, to be honest). Our students come down the aisle and sit in the front rows of the theater. Our Head of school talks to them a little. 

But then, we do something a little different from other schools. Since our graduating class is always about 32 students, the faculty goes up on the stage and each of us talks about three different students in front of the audience. We have been working on this talk for a couple of weeks and the expectation is high that we not only accurately describe the student, but that we do so with grace, humor and elegance. I find these talks to be an amazing showcase of each of our students' uniqueness, but also of the amazing oratory and story telling abilities of our staff. I describe it has weaving a beautifully imperfect tapestry. The diversity of perspective and skills sets make this part of the ceremony very touching, but also a little long if you don't know each student as well as we do.

After the teacher talks, each student participates in some performance piece. Sometimes they do this in a group, or in pairs, but for some, it is a solo affair. The performances this year included a rock reinterpretation of "I get by with a little help from my friends", several dances, a couple of short video clips, a couple of speeches and a particularly talented duet of a song from "Wicked" which left us all in tears.

Afterwards comes the presentation of diplomas. As a closing to the ceremony, we all sing a school graduation class to the tune of "Girl from Ipanema". 

Afterwards the parents had organized a catered luncheon of salmon, several salads, and some nice deserts. It was a great opportunity to walk around, meeting the families and congratulate them on their child's accomplishments.

From our perspective, these kids have accomplished a lot. But in the back of my mind lays a doubt: are we celebrating each and every event too much.

In other words, have our celebrations become "shock and awe" events?

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