By Roger Barbee
Friday night, June 7, Mary Ann and I attended a high school graduation, which because of the rain had been moved into the gymnasium. We were excited because several seniors we knew were graduating, and the school staff, like at all schools, had worked hard to plan and make this a joyous time.
We all share certain experiences as we travel through life. We may share the excitement of a child's birth, falling in love for the first time, participating in a sport or sports, learning to drive a car, or suffering the death of a loved one. Whatever the event, there is a good chance that someone else near you has had a similar experience. One such shared experience is graduating from high school, be it that you graduated, or are a friend of a graduate, or a relative of a high school graduate, it is a shared common experience. It is a time when we can all come together to celebrate this accomplishment; it is a time of excitement.
As a teacher and administrator, I have planned and participated in many graduations. I have participated in graduations held in a shaded area under a large tent, graduations held in the National Cathedral, and graduations held in a football stadium. All are the same and all are different. Names are read, speeches are given, photographs are taken, smiles are shared, and some of the graduates act out.
Some of the acting out that I have witnessed is harmless and somewhat humorous. At one graduation I saw each graduate place a lei over the presenter's head as she received her diploma. The stack built and built until the Head of School had to pause and remove some, only to have the process repeat itself. This type of activity, in my mind, is a harmless stunt that was shared by all the graduates who had obviously planned it well. It hurt no one and provided some emotional release, much like the knocking at the door in "Macbeth."
But not all stunts are equal. Disruptive behavior is not to be condoned, but some forgiveness might be called for because the offender is a 17- or 18-year-old knot-head who is excited by his or her graduation. This is a behavioral issue our school's teachers and administrators will handle. However, what I find more inexcusable is the noise made by adults who are friends or relatives of a graduate.
Before reading names for each graduate on Friday night, the audience was asked to refrain from cheers and other noise so that each graduate's name could be clearly heard. For some of those youngsters, it was their first and only time to be recognized in such a dignified manner, and we were asked to honor them in a dignified way. After all, this event, unlike others, cannot be relived, and it deserves respect for what it signifies and for what it is. Sadly, it did not happen. One man, baseball cap on his head, had the bright idea of blowing his air horn as selected graduates walked the stage, and the audience laughed encouragingly when a seated graduate would toss a beach ball into the air. Rude behavior has no place at such a service.
It is too late to change what happened that night. However, each of us has a year to think about ways in which we can celebrate the graduates and their accomplishments in June, 2014. As we adults know, that event will come quickly, but we have time to prepare for a ceremony that calls for and deserves dignity. Our impulse is to make a loud statement of some kind to signify our pleasure with our particular graduate or graduates. However, is that just for the entire class?
We can begin by talking with the 2014 class members and reminding them that they are a part of a much bigger entity. They are our children or charges, and we need to remind each one that while graduating from high school is an accomplishment, the event of commencement is not one of reckless revelry. That can be, if one chooses, done later with intimate friends and family.
We adults can also remind ourselves that while we may be present to honor just one graduate, that all the other graduates need to be honored as well. Their achievement is no less. Between now and then, let us prepare to sit quietly and hear clearly each name, watch each graduate walk across the stage and receive that worked for diploma, and when they are all charged, let us clap and scream and shout out of joy for them. After all, each is precious in his or her own way.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.