Musings on the silliness that is 8th grade “graduation”

Musings on the silliness that is 8th grade “graduation” May 26, 2011

I really should start a new blog called either “Get off my lawn” or “When I was a kid . . .” because as I get older, these things sure are fun to say to my children.  And as I do so, with rolling eyes and a playful retort, we dance the dance that is called parenting.  My kids know that I am messing with them because they know that I believe that young people today live a dramatically different life than I did.  Sure, there are some more comforts  and new technologies in life, but overall, I have no doubt that the cultural and social pressures they face would have made my head explode when I was a child.

Young people today are amazing. Period.

And this is the season when we are reminded how much we love celebrating our children as across the country young people traverse stages: graduating from college, high school . . . middle school . . .  kindergarten and yes even preschool.

Oh silly United States . . .what’s next, newborn caps and gowns? *smh*

I have been teasing my oldest daughter – pictured as she got on the bus the first day of school – about the magnitude of the “graduation” festivities that mark her final year of middle school.  The conversation usually goes like this,

Me, “So, how are the 8th Grade promotion plans going?”

Eldest with eyes rolled to the back of her head and a deep sigh, “Daaaaad . . . it is GRADUATION!”

Me, “Um . . . no, not really, because they are not giving you a diploma and it’s not like you have the option of stopping and declaring you are done with school . Happy PROMOTION sweetheart, we are so proud.”

Eldest pretends not to hear me.

Now I do talk big, but we are doing our part in contributing to the crazy that are graduation plans at my daughters’ school: caps and gowns, dance, special breakfast, water park outing, etc.  Yeah, we are feeding the monster.  Part of me thinks this is just silly, just a level above having preschoolers “graduate” into kindergarten.  Not only does this give a sense of importance for some transitions that really should be assumed and expected from and for our young people, these “graduations” can also exacerbate the divisions that exist around socioeconomics and class.

After all, when I was a kid  . . . we just went to the next stage of school, no parties, no faux commencements and certainly not a huge deal over something that should be a social norm – private, public or homeschool – going to kindergarten, then middle school, then high school.  After that . . . sure, you can be done.  Might not always be a great idea, but high school, now THAT’S a graduation.

But it really is not all that easy, so putting away my old fart persona for a minute, let me share what is also wonderful about this time.   As I watch my daughter and her friends enter this new time their life, I think it is important to acknowledge these kinds of transitions and in someway reclaim the expressions of some rites of passage.  I think that society assumes that kids will just grow up on their own, after all, they embrace technology and change so much better than the generation before.  While they might be a more adaptive generation, we too often forget that they are also kids in need of acknowledgement, guidance and community.  Marking these moments, not only with “oh how wonderful you are” celebrations, but also with an acknowledgment of the importance and responsibility that this new stage brings it vital for you young people.

Some kids have low expectation about their education, they have no one who really believes in them and the last thing that may happen in their life is a big celebration for finishing the eight grade.  And then there are others who have become so entitled to these things that the gravity of the privilege of education and community is lost on them.  We must try to meet both kids so both may see that during this crucial time in their life, people believe in them, a community excited for what is ahead and there is great responsibility that comes with the gift of education.

So for those who are graduating from eight grade, congratulations.  So many are proud of you, what you have done and who you are becoming. Enjoy the summer and then get to high school already 😉

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19 responses to “Musings on the silliness that is 8th grade “graduation””

  1. enjoyed your story and, no, you’re not alone in this thinking that there has to be a celebration for every turn in their life.
    we didn’t have these “graduations” and we turned out fine, because we didn’t feel like we were missing out.

    I have another “celebration” for you.
    the high school my daughter goes to is having a “breakfast hour” set up for out-going seniors next week. the seniors are taking part in a class that talks about life after high school and is preparing them on necessities like balancing a checkbook, paying bills, etc.
    so the parents club feels it’s necessary to feed them a big breakfast before this “class” and all the parents are asked to donate food items and/or volunteer.

    how in the world will they survive when they hit the real world and there’s not a celebration for them around every event in their adult, working life?

  2. Yeah, we just went through that process with a very driven kid in the mix.  Balancing the importance of high school setting with the posture of “it’s just high school” is important.  So easy to get caught up in the hype though as well.  Tough stuff.

  3. @02a243c4202b23e8ec78620f1ff48aa6:disqus While I do hear what you are saying, i am not sure that parents alone control what pressured weigh on our kids.  We can help them cope and respond in healthy ways, but I do not think that the pressures themselves are that simple to control.

  4. The pressures are only “unbelievable” for kids and parents who choose to treat them that way. I messed up all kinds of tests and grades. I wasn’t interested, and neither were my parents.

    In real life, I’ve changed the world in several small ways.

    None of that ridiculous cheering helped me even slightly.

  5. The question would be: Is there any particular 8th grade test passed that merits a celebration?

    How many kids “fail” 8th grade?

    I.e., at what particular points are students collectively “at risk” for not passing?

    And to be even more brutal: Why would a family with a successful, intelligent kid even consider celebrating 8th grade?

    It’s pretty embarrassing: We’re celebrating our kid’s graduation, because we weren’t sure it could happen.

  6. I do think the pressures are unbelievable. In our area so many kids apply to specialty high schools or governor’s schools of the arts or international relations and so on. They fill out the equivalent of applications I wrote for college just to get in a special public or private high school. They have to pass so many more standardized tests just to get through elementary and middle school. I used to think the “graduations” were silly, too, but I agree with where you come out in your essay. We do need to stop and cheer sometimes more than we did.

  7. I had very snarky, dismissive comments about my daughter’s middle school graduation, but was quieted when I realized that for some of those kids, it would be the biggest event they would know in their school lives.  The high school drop out rate is so high in Oakland that really, for some kids, this is their moment.  Sad, but true.

  8. Yeah, the marking of the passage is great, but some times I think we get a little carried away . . . some the parent meetings this year about what we HAD to have where quite interesting to say the least.

  9. Well, when I was her age…..
    Yes, we graduated from Jr. High before going to High School. I was a little bummed when Lindsay didn’t have any kind of graduation, celebration, recognition of any kind. It seemed like a real transition to me when we did it. High school was BIG. Jr. High was sort of….not so big. At high school there were important things to do and decide and things to get involved with and REAL football games in a REAL stadium. I missed that marking of a passage when Lindsay went from 8th to 9th.
    But the reality is, high school is still a big world, filled with such opportunities and hurdles as to thrill a kid and make a parent quiver inside.
    In a way, 8th grade graduation takes the place of puberty rites. You leave grade school (because face it, middle school is still a place where students are sheltered to some degree and orchestra is an “everybody gets to play” thing, not “you have to audition and compete” thing) and enter the four years of school in which you will go from being a child to an adult.
    So indulge your eldest, if she likes the ceremony and pomp, and give her special attention for her accomplishment. Then boot her on to high school. She’ll love it.

  10. it’s an interesting dilemma you pose Bruce. when are we truly done with school and can REALLY graduate? honestly, none of the “finishings” i’ve done as of yet has been much of a big deal. i’ve finished high school, undergraduate college, a masters degree.. next year, God willing, i will be finishing the PhD. for me, *that* finishing will be the one to celebrate. see, i would have told you all along that i was never going to get my phd (or try, as i’m still doing), yet the previous graduations didn’t feel like the end. i guess somehow deep down i always knew i’d do this one final finish. when i finish this it will feel like i’m really done, i think about it and it will truly be a celebration – not just because of how difficult this one is to get, but because i believe it will actually mark the end of my formal education. yes it will have taken 39 years, but it will be done.

    so, when high school graduation comes, is that really the finish? i ask because so many young people today are going off to college.. its no longer the exception to the rule, it seems to be more of the rule. or is high school graduation more like 8th grade graduation – a step into another life?

    i don’t know. i’m just thinking randomly today, with a hay fever raddled brain.

  11. I think 8th grade graduations have also become important as a passage, a celebration and a farewell for kids who have been in the same school from K-8, and now will go to many different schools for high school.  When I was young, after we finished junior high, we all went to the same high school.  Not anymore.  

  12. I think it’s a great thing even though it generally is accompanied by too much pomp and circumstance for my personal tastes. But, it’s not about me. At its best, it’s about encouraging children to achieve, to learn, and, most specifically, to learn the value of learning. 

    As for Jeff’s grandmother, I think she was being too kind.  Having a Bachelor’s and a Doctorate, the truth is, I learned far more in prep school than in any other educational institution — and that was in the 80’s not the 50’s.

  13. While I do tend to agree re: high school as “more optional” at one time, it seems to me that “8th grade graduation” and “optional high school” don’t really have any period of overlap, where both things existed at the same time.  I find it therefore difficult to accept that as an explanation for the phenomenon.

  14. I think the idea of grade 8 graduation comes from the fact that high school used to be a heck of a lot more optional.  Of course, my grandmother swore that back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the intellectual content of high school was a lot closer to what most people get at the university now.

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