The promise of high school graduation

Jun. 08, 2013 @ 05:15 PM

Fifteen years in this business covering high school graduations, and I still feel the palpable promise that commencement brings. Graduations are fun.

There’s no equivalent to a high school graduation. College graduation might be harder to achieve academically, but the variety just isn’t there. In public high school, everyone is thrown together. In college, you’re there because you have some sort of financial support – yours or given to you – and your future is likely middle class. At a high school graduation, students will enter a full range of life experiences -- from military war to personal peace, from food stamps to campaign donor, from jail to judge, and plenty of regular daily middle class life. Time will tell. As Tom Petty sings, they’re going “into the great wide open.”

At a college graduation, you’re already an adult. You might not act like it, but you have been an adult for years. After college graduation, some adults move back in with their parents rather than struggling on their own. But after high school graduation, living with your parents is the rear view mirror on the car you’re driving to the future. There’s more hope at a high school graduation, perhaps because there’s more youth. At least two of the young men I saw at the Southern School of Engineering graduation still had braces that betrayed their age.

My son’s preschool had a graduation ceremony a few days ago, and it was very sweet seeing all the little ones together in their gowns, singing about friendship. It was a passage, a symbolic moving on to kindergarten. I didn’t get teary at his ceremony because there’s no ending – he’s there for the summer, too. You’ll probably read a column in early September about my tearing up at the first day of kindergarten, however. I’ll blink, and kindergarten will have become high school graduation.

Speaking of, grant me an aside here about making high school graduations too serious. Why not toss up your mortarboards? Why not shout out when your son or daughter walks by? Someone called the order for decorum the “fun police,” and I think there’s some truth to that. We need to let the joy out. Now, not so much that the next kid in line’s name announcement is drowned out by shouts, but the name announcer can simply pause for a “That’s my baby!” This won’t work when hundreds of names are being read. But less than 100? Let the moment last. Let people all clap politely for each other, and let the enthusiastic loved ones let loose. Come on, now. To put it another way -- there’s more life in a place that has an amen corner. And who doesn’t smile when a graduate does a little dance on stage, too? We don’t all hear the same drummer. That’s what makes life interesting. Congratulations, high school graduates! May the promise of a good life lead you.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563.