Saturday, June 2, 2012

Graduation Day

Today was graduation day at HHS.  I didn't attend the ceremony, but happened to drive by the high school on my way into town and saw the students and their families taking photos and visiting on the lawn at the high school.  The students who attended HHS when I was an administrator there have long since graduated, but this graduating class has several students from my days as special education director.  It's another reminder that time is marching forward and nothing stays the same. 

When I worked at the high school, graduation was the biggest event of the year.  Thousands of people attended.  There was always lots of drama leading up to the ceremony as students struggled to complete graduation requirements.   There were usually two or three parents in the principal's office demanding that exceptions be made so their child could participate in the ceremony even though he or she had not completed all the requirements. 

The administrative team worked hard to maintain the dignity of the ceremony and give every student his or her moment in the spotlight.  Very little was left to chance.  The graduates were well rehearsed and we were on the lookout for disruptive tricks.  There was always someone who tried to sneak in beach balls to toss around during the ceremony, an air horn to blast when a friend received a diploma, or giant balloons to float above them.  The invited guests were sometimes worse than the students and we confiscated air horns and balloons at the door.  At rehearsal our students were assured that they would be escorted out of the ceremony if they participated in any of these disruptive antics.  They were allowed cans of silly string and beach balls, but they could only pull them out after the last student received a diploma and the class was presented to the audience.  Our students understood that graduation was important to the thousands of friends and family members who had gathered to watch, and every student deserved to be the sole center of attention for those few seconds when their name was announced and they marched across the stage to accept a handshake and their diploma.  But every year the students planned something just to keep us on our toes. 

My first year at the high school the principal walked me through the graduation preparations and explained why everything was so carefully choreographed.   One year the ceremony was just about to start when the principal looked at the stage from the back of the room and realized that there were no diplomas on the stage.  Three thousand friends and family watched as a student hurried up to the dais and deposited a cardboard box on the table.  Not a fatal error, but every year after that the checklist had "Diplomas on the stage" listed to remind us.

One tradition that students have carried out for years is giving the board chair, who hands out the diplomas, a token when receiving their diplomas.  The checklist got a new addition "Container for tokens" after the year that students chose to give the board chair marbles.  After the first twenty-five students had handed off their marbles, the board chair had full pockets and marbles were rolling off the table.  Each class tries to come up with something original to hand over.  The year our first graduating class of the newly remodeled school graduated, they handed over nails to represent the two years they studied while construction was in progress.  One year it was condoms...I don't know what that was supposed to represent!

It's an exciting time for students.  I enjoyed seeing their smiling faces as they left the high school with their diplomas, their bright gowns blowing around them in the wind.  Their future is wide open.  Congratulations to the class of 2012.


  1. Good story, Nana! I really enjoyed hearing about how the ceremony was kept under control, and about the tokens. Condoms does seem a bit on the strange side, but there's probably a story behind it. Well told! Thank you for taking the time to make it so interesting! :-)

  2. Oh yes, so much to do for graduation. I still get tired just thinking about it. For years, when we ran a year-round schedule, I planned four different graduations each year, a couple of months apart; four different days; four different decorations, etc.. By the time I got to the third one, I was so exhausted. Inevitably, something always went wrong, even with checklists and double-checked preparations.
    As a school board member, I adopt and push a major recommendation: do not ask for anything or call, or show up at schools two or three weeks before graduation. We don't need to add to the general anxiety.

  3. Love your stories and memories! It seems a lot of people in our community have attended graduations lately. Some neighbors drove all the way to Los Angeles to see their grandson graduate -- only to have him skip the ceremony! My husband and I also went to Los Angeles a few weeks ago to see our foster son (a nine-year-old when he came into our lives 20 years ago) get his Master's degree in Social Work. We cried like real parents! We were so thrilled to see him and his classmates looking to the future with such energy, altruism and optimism. Here's to all the classes of 2012!

  4. We have a step-granddaughter graduating from high school next week, on the same day as my husband's knee replacement surgery. I wish I could attend. Oh, well.

  5. Good story and post! Why is it always SO DARN HOT on graduation days? We have five kids and everyone of the ceremonies was on a HOT day...

  6. When my brother was a high school principal, he liked graduation the least of everything because of all the attempts to be "creative." There is something really wonderful about watching young lives on the brink of everything. A lovely post.

  7. Education is one of the highest form of personal investing one can have. Congratulations to the one who plough through and made it to the graduation day.

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