June is the month of graduation. It’s a time when
families celebrate the educational accomplishments of children, grandkids,
brothers, spouses, friends and others.
Graduation ceremonies are held to recognize the
significant learning accomplishment of the degree recipient. It’s a time
when we recognize that a new phase in a person’s life has begun. Some
graduates will continue on with their education and have additional
opportunities to graduate. Others will enter the world of work or
military. Some students are very fortunate and will take time to travel
and enjoy life. It’s a time of rebirth.
I have participated in four graduation ceremonies. My
first graduation was in 1956, from Bentleyville High School, a small high
school in western Pennsylvania. I can’t remember much about the
graduation ceremony. The diploma I received was to signify my high-school
academic accomplishments. I didn’t excel in academics during my first 12
years in the education environment. I believe my class rank was 52nd out
of a total of 72. Maybe that’s why I have a poor memory. I received the
activities award, given to the person most active in things other than
going to class. I was also voted most comical and best dancer — neither
award contributed to my quality-point average. My major interests were
athletics, fishing, hunting, girls and just goofing around. In other
words, I cut a lot of classes. None of these activities were considered a
part of the academic process. They were just something that happened and
not measurable by any standard academic examination. I did accomplish
enough to earn the diploma for which I stayed in school 12 years.
My future graduations indicated that I also had some
academic ability. I made the dean’s list most of the time during my
undergraduate years. I can’t remember my college rank, but I’m sure it
was significantly higher than the rank I had during my high-school years.
My graduate-study years were also academically productive, receiving
special attention during the 1976 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State
University’s graduation ceremonies. The special attention I received was
not for my academic accomplishments, but rather for my name. All doctoral
recipients were given the privilege of receiving their degree on stage.
Dean Bull, the graduate-school dean, came to a sudden stop when he began
to read my name. He never did get the words out of his mouth. I had too
many vowels in my name. Since that day I’ve been known as “John
Graduations should mean something, but in today’s
feel-good environment we have a graduation or award ceremony for
everything. This article is a result of a conversation that took place at
the local Cystic Fibrosis Foundation supper. My daughter-in-law turned to
me and said, “I know how you feel about this, but Brooke (my
granddaughter) is graduating on June 6th and we’d like you and grandma
to come.” I laughed — Brooke is four and she’s graduating from
nursery school. All of Brooke’s grandparents seldom miss any of her
activities and we’ll be there for this graduation. But somehow I just
don’t feel she’s accomplished anything worthy of the term graduation.
Whatever happened to the end-of-the-year party? Seems like a picnic or a
trip to the zoo is more appropriate for this level of accomplishment.
There are so many graduations and award activities before our children
reach high-school graduation that they become immune to the process.
High-school graduation is just another day of getting patted on the back.
We over-reward our children. My kids and grandkids
got a trophy for everything. If you played the game you were awarded a
trophy. Accomplishing something was secondary. I’ve seen kids get larger
trophies than the Super Bowl trophy just for participating in T-ball. (The
team also came in last place.) I know winning shouldn’t be the only game
in town, but getting an award should mean a child did more than just show
up. Do kids really need all these rewards? Maybe they’re more for mom
and dad than the recipient.
Recently I was doing one of my “honey-do list”
items and came across a boxes of trophies. I asked my children what they
wanted me to do with them. Most of them ended up in the trash except for a
few that signified exceptional accomplishments. I too had a box of plaques
and certificates that meant nothing. A few now hang on the office wall,
but most went into the trash can. I’ve gotten a certificate of
accomplishment for almost every workshop I’ve attended without
demonstrating I knew anything about the subject.
The university environment is notorious for showing
and telling everyone of every little accomplishment. I had colleagues who
actually displayed their conference-attendance badges on their office
bulletin boards. Their promotion or evaluation portfolios were full of
insignificant items that we expected professors to do as part of the job.
They certainly weren’t meritorious. I only mention this to show how
widespread award inflation is in today’s society.
I do remember getting some money as a high-school
graduation gift. I might note from my academic accomplishments the
financial rewards were undeserved. I know I never got paid for the grades
I received in elementary or secondary school. Dad just thought school was
my family responsibility, just as working in the coal mine to feed us was
his responsibility. We didn’t need special awards for doing what was
expected. A Father’s Day hug is all that most dads need, and maybe
that’s what we should give kids instead of all the plastic awards.
high-school graduates should ask themselves, “To what degree does this
diploma represent my best effort?” I guess I met the minimum standards
for receiving mine years ago, but I am not proud of my lack of academic
accomplishment in high school. As years go by, awards obtained for little
or no effort will end up in the trash can. A reward that represents your
maximum effort deserves a place on the wall. I can’t find my high-school
diploma, but my doctorate does occupy a place for others to see.
there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different
view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending
comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: DrBmailbag@aol.com,
or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded
to the author.