Spradlin: Graduating again and again and again

My parents never showed up to my pre-school graduation.

They were there for a special show-and-tell, as I recall, when my mother brought in a litter of cocker spaniel puppies for the kids to play with a week or two before they were ready to find new homes (the pups, not my classmates).

They weren’t there for my kindergarten graduation either. I remember playing with glue, flirting with an Indian girl named Purvee and playing Transformers with my best friend Robby.

Kevin Spradlin, PeeDeePost.com's owner and managing editor, grew up worried about horses, baseball and what how late he could remain outside without getting in trouble.

Kevin Spradlin, PeeDeePost.com’s owner and managing editor, grew up worried about horses, baseball and how late he could remain outside without getting in trouble.

Then came fifth grade. You guessed it, my parents missed the graduation ceremony. At the end of eighth grade, once again, my parents weren’t at the transition ceremony at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

It was my last step before starting my life as a high school student, and I kind of figured they would have been there. It wasn’t because my parents were bad parents. They worked hard, and I think they made enough time for each of their five children when needed.

And they might have been there — had the school hosted such a ceremony.

But they didn’t. There wasn’t one.

For pre-school, kindergarten, fifth grade or eighth grade, there were no special ceremonies indicating graduation from one level to the next. There were likely end-of-year awards ceremonies, but they weren’t referred to as graduations. I don’t recall  many, if any, parents coming. On that note, I don’t remember the life-size trophies, bicycles and other prizes, but that’s another story.

Now, 18 years after members of the Class of 1997 at South Hagerstown (Md.) High School walked the stage, I’m seeing all sorts of graduations. On social media, parents are sharing “my baby graduated (fill in the blank) grade!” photos.

The outpouring of emotion caused me to wonder: Are we having too many graduations? Are all these ceremonies watering down the biggie — high school graduation?

Call me a curmudgeon — no, really, go ahead, I’ll wait — but I have an unshakeable feeling all these ceremonies are stealing the thunder of the importance of high school graduation. It used to be a student had two graduations to aim for: high school, then college. I continue to think those two milestones have meaning.

This isn’t to take away from any of the accomplishments of the younger students — high GPAs, great attendance, and so on. Just don’t call it graduation. Have an end-of-year party or celebration, enjoy Field Day and plow into summer with a fun-filled list of memory-making experiences.

My wife, a southerner born in Louisiana, tells me it’s more of a southern tradition. I’m a northerner, as many of you might already know, and there’s no doubt my early years in Yankee land might have an impact on my current views. And in the interest of full disclosure, I’m also not a big fan of celebrating birthdays — “we’re still alive, yah!” Instead, I prefer to celebrate milestones and achievements, such as high school graduation.

Now, though, the phrase “I’m graduating” is old hat by the time students reach the ninth grade. It used to be high school graduation was the carrot on the stick teachers and parents could use to lure their kids to the ceremony. I wonder if the ceremony means any less because by the time high school graduation becomes a topic of discussion in any household, the impact and meaning of “graduation” has been lost in preschool, kindergarten, fifth and eighth grades.

It seems that more and more frequently, school districts are having to employ more ostentatious measures — such as life-size trophies and bicycles and free cars — to lure students to the classroom. Are the good old days of simply showing up, working hard and earning your grade over? Maybe it’s that they were never really there, and that I simply missed that fact.

Here’s the question, though, I’m really asking: What happened to the days when simply putting in an honest day’s work was reward enough?

Kevin Spradlin is managing editor of The Pee Dee Post. He can be reached at 910-331-4130 or peedeepost@gmail.com. The Post welcomes opposing viewpoints. If you’re interested in submitting a guest column with a different view on this or any other topic, please use the contact information to ask about the requirements.


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  • Dianne

    I agree. Having a graduation ceremony for every little accomplishment waters down the ceremony for high school. By then, the kids have been to so many, what’s one more.It’s ridiculous…and just another expense for those parents who are struggling to make a living day to day.

  • Mary Ruth Miller

    I agree, your employer will look for your high school and college diplomas, I think kids need to be able to look into the future of walking that walk across a field or auditorium to get those hard earned diplomas. Let them grow up wanting that, instead of schools and companies just making money off the smaller milestones.

  • Cassidy Faith

    My only graduation was at RCC class of 96. All my years attending various schools in Richmond County we never had any of the smaller graduations. Even in 2009 when my own child attended preschool, or the year after in kindergarten, we still had no graduations that I’m aware of, at the same school I attended as a child. Apparently it must be a new southern tradition and I also don’t understand all the hype on these graduations. Much more sensible to keep it to the usual award ceremonies at the end of the year.

  • Sam

    I agree 100% we are watering down the value of the diplomas. This started because of the desire on the part of many to boost the self esteem of all children. In sports everyone must get a trophy ect. Instead of boosting self esteem it has given the kids the idea that they are entitled no matter how much effort,hard work or talent they have, This is not a southern thing but is national. We now have differentiated diplomas on the high school level. This is an attempt to go to the European educational system. where around the 8th grade you will be told whether you are going to college or trade school. The problem with this system is there is no changing it. I have seen kids that struggled thru high school just getting by. Later they woke up and earned a college degree and had professional careers. The key here is that they earned a good basic education in.high school and were not just socially promoted. They then were able to build off of this.

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