OK, I admit it. I’m Scrooge.
For years, every June, I would listen to the “Graduation Kiddush” sponsors list announced in my synagogue. Family X, in honor of their son graduating pre-nursery. Family Y, in honor of their daughter graduating nursery. And so on, up through high school, college, and the occasional person who just passed the bar.
And I would just be irritated.
But not by the rattling off of the names, per se, or the lengthier announcements. Pay your $36 and you get to hear your name. That’s cool with me. And when they would get to the 8th grade graduations, I would even nod my head and give the congratulatory shul mumble. High school graduations, I would even say Mazel Tov. College graduation, hearty Mazel Tov. Grad school? Even heartier.
It was the nursery school “graduations” I had a problem with.
Yep, I’m Scrooge. Or old school, at least.
To be clear, I think early childhood education is critically important. The practical skills children learn, the social-emotional development, the understanding of how to be part of a group, and not least of all the self-esteem and joy they feel each day, are all wonderful. And in a Jewish context, they also get a love for Jewish life built on a foundation of both knowledge and emotional connection. I love that my daughter is off and running when I drop her off each day, ready to jump in to a world of play, friendships, and learning.
But I think words and terms have value, and I don’t like cheapening them. To me—and I think, to most people—graduation carries a special connotation, the idea of completing an education over a number of years, and building toward a higher goal that can only be achieved cumulatively. And it’s precisely because you have to work hard for it, stick it out, and keep the end goal in sight, even when it seems so far away you can barely see it, that it’s all the more worthwhile. Underlying that premise is that you’re old enough to understand all of that.
Which is why I was glad to see that my four-year-old daughter’s pre-nursery closing program last week was called just that—a closing program. Not graduation.
But her 3-year-old program the year before? She wore a graduation cap with a mortarboard. Made out of construction paper, but you get the idea.
And I was a proud papa at both programs, of course. (Especially when she took a bow and went down the slide at last year's; that's the moment of truth.)
But one day, when she’s older, I’ll sit her down and teach her that words have meaning, sometimes on multiple levels. Those meanings should be appreciated, even celebrated. And sometimes, they should be reserved for special, even exclusive, occasions.
Perhaps we’ll have that talk at her 8th grade graduation party.
And then afterward we’ll talk about why it’s called commencement.