Monday, June 1, 2015

#YourEduStory: Why are, or aren't, graduation and promotion ceremonies important?

This week's topic: Why are, or aren't, graduation and promotion ceremonies important?

Or, what is the role/importance of ceremonies in school/society?

I've been involved in competitive sports since I was six years old and it's no surprise to those who know me that I am extremely competitive. As a child, my parents would stay for the awards ceremonies of races that signified an accomplishment. They never put stock in participant awards. When I was cleaning out my room after college, I found a box of certificates for participation and threw them out. They had no meaning to me.

I finished my first 10K when I was eight years old. I trained for three months for it with a local running group, For Kids Only. I did not medal in the race, but my parents surprised me with a trophy. In this case, I did not place, but it was a significant accomplishment for me so my parents rewarded that.

As much as that trophy meant to me, what I remember is not the ceremony, but the sprinklers at the end and the cheering crowd. I remember the journey - not the culmination.

The same can be said about other ceremonies and graduations. Arriving on that graduation stand means a variety of things to people. For me, it was the last final step before I could go to college. It meant very little to me. For my younger brother, though, it was a significant moment. We did not know until he was handed his diploma if he actually graduated. School was a struggle for him. The ceremony was significant to him.

I attended my Bachelor's ceremony only because my close-knit group of UTeach friends were also attending. It was my last chance to see them before we all moved away. By the time I finished my Master's degree, I did not bother to complete the graduation paperwork. And, by the time of my specialist degree, I did not even know when the ceremony was. For me, what was significant had nothing to do with the ceremony. It was about the journey or the next step. Graduation was another "thing" to do. For others, it is a formal way of marking the end of something, a time to say goodbye.

When I think about the students I work with and their graduation ceremonies. They are more of a celebration of something ending. They are a chance to say goodbye. For some, they mark a new beginning and for others, they are a reminder of a less than comforting future. I had a student one time who admitted to failing because he was not found of the world outside of school. He did not want to graduate. To him, a ceremony was a reminder that his safety was over.

While I know I am an exception with my own personal views on ceremonies as I'm not a ceremonial sort of person, they do serve a marker for some, but can be a slap in the face to others. Now, graduation is an important marker of high school. It's almost a rite of passage.

If we think of graduation ceremonies like other sports awards ceremonies, it looks different. The ceremony may mark a significant accomplishment, but it is not the accomplishment. The focus needs to go on the accomplishment. The ceremonies can be what they are - a time to say goodbye, a rite of passage - but the focus needs to shift.

In sports, yes, I wanted to win. However, the ceremony was never as important as the actual win to me. I always wanted the medal/trophy and the win.

What is your focus on? What will your students remember the most in 10 years? 15 years? 50 years? That's where our time and energy need to go.

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