Pomp, Circumstance, and Two Districts

June 4, 2008 at 6:14 pm Leave a comment

I was invited to attend CHS’s graduation, as a teacher, which meant that I got to promenade ahead of the graduates and sit on the floor for the ceremony. Although I taught sophomores, I had gotten to know several seniors through their relationship with my mentor and was happy to witness their big day.

No graduation ceremony is very interesting – including, in my experience, one’s own graduation ceremony(s) – but I enjoyed the new perspective on the occasion. Someone mentioned to me that I must be especially dedicated (her comment had a perhaps imagined undertone of “are you trying to suck up?”) but the fact of the matter is that I honestly think it these moments are so important for young people – and it seems important to me to share in that. Goodness knows that the high school diploma no longer holds the value it once did, and it seems to me that a kid has to go out of his/her way to not make it to graduation; regardless, this is the one rite of passage remaining for American youth, and one shouldn’t underestimate the potency of these rites.

The following week I went with Mr. Bees to CeHS’s graduation, which we attended as regular guests. Unlike me, Mr. Bees has been teaching seniors and has developed relationships with about 150 of them. It was heartwarming to stand by him as one after another gowned senior approached him afterwards with warm exclamations and the occasional declaration of gratitude.

I went to high school in Suburban School District, although not at CeHS, and their version of the graduation ceremony was more like my own than CHS’s. At CHS’s graduation ceremony I had been gratified to find that the people had apparently “grown up” a bit since my own walk across the stage. There was very little showboating on the stage, no inappropriate footwear, appropriate levels of respect paid to speakers, and only two airhorn blasts. From where I sat, it appeared that the vast majority of the audience stayed in their seats for the entirety of the ceremony. While some students received uproarious applause from their large families, there was no one who didn’t receive a round of applause. Every teacher seat was taken.

Then I went to CeHS’s graduation and discovered that things hadn’t changed so much after all. The national anthem and superintendent speech were drowned out by audience members bellowing their graduates’ names. Airhorn blasts punctuated the role call at regular intervals, deafening the unfortunate spectators in front of them. After every name was announced, another group of spectators stood up and walked out of the arena. At least two graduates were wearing the kind of light-up plastic heels more traditionally seen at strip clubs, and there were a startling number of male graduates sporting bare legs and dirty tennis shoes. At least half of the seats in the teacher section were empty.

Urban School District (CHS’s district) and Suburban School District (CeHS’s district) are separated by few enough miles that children who grew up on the other side of my street attended the other district. They both have high-quality schools and teachers and a lot of community support. Personally, I would be quite happy to work for either district – I think that they both have significant strengths and comparable weaknesses. And yet, they are miles apart in many fundamental ways. There is something intangible there that made their two graduation ceremonies vastly different. The first felt sacred, important. The second felt like I must have missed the kegs on the way in. I am not at all sure what is going on there.


Entry filed under: MR. BEES. Tags: , , , , .

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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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