Spring on campuses is a flurry of activity, emotions swelling almost to bursting, traditions dusted off and celebrated with pomp and circumstance. At a high school this means prom, senior assemblies, and tryouts for graduation speaker. Middle schools see trips to Disneyland, talent shows, and awkward 8th grade dances. All signal the approach of summer and a transition from one school and chapter of life to another. Commencement ceremonies and 8th grade promotions are part of the June landscape, and help drop the curtain on the school year.
It’s tradition, I suppose, that keeps the filling of stadiums, reading of names, and quoting of Dr. Seuss alive, though as I watch folks fan themselves with programs and squint into the Southern California sun, I wonder how we might change up the practice to suit a new world.
When students think back on the end of their year, the memories are from events other than the ceremony on the final day. Principals and performers do their best to bring a few exclamation points to the gathering, but more often than not the punctuation is decidedly a period.
Some will argue the importance of the event as a celebration of completion, and there is certainly some truth to that. There’s also truth to the value of celebrating the good work students do every day. Ongoing recognition, both inside and outside of the classroom, should be a part of what we do at schools every week.
Maybe I need to shift my perspective on this, but I notice that when folks discuss how good a graduation or promotion ceremony is talk almost always turns to the time it takes to finish. “Less than an hour? That’s great!” It’s a compliment I’ve never heard of a movie or concert I enjoyed.
Perhaps the best recommendation for having a commencement ceremony is the opportunity for families to participate in the celebration of their students’ successes. If moms and dads don’t routinely have a chance to join teachers, counselors, and administrators to applaud what the kids are doing, then this culminating event is a good excuse to do so.
I’d argue, however, that we do our students a better service if we publicly celebrate their work (and play) often and in many ways. Tweeting a frog dissection, blogging about a student performance, or putting a photo album on Facebook from a student art show do much to show the world what is happening on campus. Award ceremonies can take place every month, not just in the last hurried weeks of June, and with a mix of online and in person events spread throughout the school year, we make the need for the formality of a ceremony melt away.
But maybe that formality is part of the point. Maybe those awkwardly high heels and hastily knotted ties are a right of passage that has value in and of itself. I know I won’t be the principal who ditches promotion, this year or any year. Though I will humbly suggest that the energy that goes into planning one spectacular event is more effective when it’s spread out from September to June. Period.