If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Graduation Day Do's and Don'ts

Friday was eighth grade graduation here at school. One of the side effects of being a teacher is that I have been to a lot of graduation ceremonies in my life--at least one a year almost every year since I was in kindergarten--so I consider myself a bit of a graduation connoisseur.

This was a pretty good one as graduations go. It was short: almost exactly an hour. The focus was on the kids: in groups of 2-4, all of the students got a short time on stage to read from an original or borrowed text. The adults' speeches were short and enjoyable, and tasty food was served at the reception.

Being at graduation got me thinking about all the ceremonies I have sat through, and especially about what kind of ceremony I would design for my ideal school. So here are some graduation day do's and don'ts learned from my experiences.

DO make it all about the students. Put the focus on them, and leave it there as much as possible.

DON'T overdo it with awards and honors. If you're sitting at a faculty meeting trying to figure out which kid to give a fourth award to, you probably have too many prizes.

DO let the students choose their speaker based on speaking ability, not GPA. The student who gets the best grades in the class is not always the best speaker. We all have to sit through the speech; let someone do it who is going to make it enjoyable.

DON'T drag it out. At my high school, the diplomas were awarded in random order, and the last student called won a sock filled with loose change. It took well over an hour to read the names of the 185 students, all so one kid could win $20 in quarters. Not fun.

DO have the ceremony in the morning. Last year at my current school, temperatures got up over 100º for the afternoon ceremony. That's just torture.

DON'T have a special speaker from outside the school. I have been lucky enough to see some wonderful speakers over the years. The most inspiring was Kofi Annan at my wife's college graduation. The most amusing was Henry Winkler giving us a taste of the Fonz at mine. But the line I most remember from my whole college graduation weekend was the Master of my residential college saying that no one every remembers anything that gets said in graduation speeches. So true. Spend the time focusing on the students.

Finally, DO embrace the clichés. Every graduation has the same themes: transformation, new beginnings, leadership, the great possibilities of the the future. For those of us who are there over and over, the repetition can get a bit boring, but it is a new group of students every year, and it is our job to send them off into the world feeling proud of their accomplishments and empowered by their education. In the end, that's what all the work (theirs and ours) has been about.

I'd love to hear from you about your best and worst graduation experiences.

No comments: