Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Graduation Proclamation

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.


  1. And I hope when she has that eighth grade commencement- that it is from a wonderful school and that you and she are pleased with the meaningful experience she had there and the wonderful opportunities and learning ahead of her in high school and beyond.

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  3. My daughter had her last day at preschool today. They held a "celebration" which I also thought was a lovely name for the event. The children sang a song and received their portfolios. Then we ate. Short and sweet.

  4. From a very different perspective, I spent years trying to explain to my students that their wedding celebration was not nearly as important as the years that they would spend together with their spouse, and that the effort would be better spent at building the foundations of a healthy relationship rather than throwing a lavish party.

    Guess I am a scrooge, too.

  5. Well put. What bothers me more is the expectation that young children should perform at these events. Celebrating endings should be joyful and a chance for being together and there are so many ways to do that. Expecting these little ones to stand on stage and sing, speak, or act seems more about pleasing adults than encouraging or supporting the children.

  6. Right On Sid! What a great sense of developmental appropriate practice you have. Not only do words have meaning but so do experiences.

  7. Ellen --

    While my daughter's program had the performance component, the second half was each kid received a "memory box" filled with pictures and projects from throught the year, and they got to decorate the box with their parents. (And of course eat snacks.) That was fantastic, in my opinion.