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June 07, 2006

Graduation Ceremony Etiquette

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Don those mortarboards! Flip those tassels! It's graduation time!!

I hate graduation ceremonies.

Don't like watching 'em. Don't like being in 'em. But when duty calls, I'm there.

The last ones I attended were around 10 years ago when my kids graduated from high school. There were a few marked differences from the ceremonies I attended when my sister and I finished high school.

In late 1950s Seattle the audiences were polite and disciplined, applauding at appropriates times, remaining seated for the entire event.

Not so in late 1990s Olympia. There was constant motion. Worse, family groups whooped and clapped when their own little darling strode across the stage to snatch the diploma.

I thought it was selfish, stupid, and undignified. What should (in my opinion) have been a solemn, important rite of passage was turned into a cross between a zoo and a daytime TV show audience. School officials did nothing to stop the behavior.

And when the school principal spoke, much of his talk was a recitation of statistics supposedly demonstrating what a brilliant senior class it was (he did this for both my son's class and my daughter's). I forget the details, but he quoted astonishingly high shares of the class graduating with grade points exceeding 3.5 and 3.8 (where 4.0 is perfect).

The phrase "grade inflation" kept buzzing in my brain. Fool that I am, I just couldn't quite believe that a massive genetic shift had occurred between my generation and the following one.

As I said, I hate graduation ceremonies. And they seem to be getting worse.

Can someone convince me I'm mistaken?



posted by Donald at June 7, 2006


Amen, brother.

Posted by: Ethan on June 7, 2006 6:02 PM

A lot of kids have grown up with too many graduation ceremonies, starting with kindergarten, and sometimes again after 8th grade. By the time they get to high school it's not as big of a deal.

The "whoop it up" irreverent atmosphere began in the early to mid 70s, and seems to get worse every year.

In my experience, a solemn, dignified atmosphere in a wedding ceremony or graduation ceremony adds exhilaration, uplift and relief to the receptions and parties that follow. When you start joking around too soon, it seems like some of the air has come out of the balloon. You don't get to enjoy the contrast between the two ways of celebrating an event.

Posted by: Bill on June 7, 2006 6:04 PM

Hey, don't look at me! I have my own complaints! Like the kids who go through the ceremony even though they haven't graduated (they get an empty box) because their families want them to have the gifts they'll collect. Or the wars over whether gowns and mortarboards can or cannot be beaded, or whether tassels can be replaced with eagle feathers, or whether one really ought to wear something under one's gown.

The grades are so inflated, the test scores are so skewed by unexamined cultural bias, the school identity is so athletically dominated, that nothing really matters -- I've been told -- until one gets to the post-doc level.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on June 7, 2006 7:50 PM

Grade inflation in high school is not necessarily a matter of giving out As like candy, and 4.0 is no longer perfect. Many schools give a 4.5 for an A+, an extra point for honors classes, and an extra two points for Advanced Placement classes. That means that a C in an AP course counts as much as an A in a non-AP non-honors class. It also means that the highest GPAs are almost all in 11th and 12th grade, since that's where the AP classes are.

Seniors like the two I just finished teaching who took five AP classes and one honors class* could therefore have a senior year average of 6.0 or more. Mine don't, because my school doesn't give a lot of A+s, but their averages are still well over 4.0.

On the other hand, with a graduating class of eight, I think we're going to have a well-behaved unzoolike ceremony.

*There's no AP exam in Greek, so Greek IV was only an honors class, though more difficult than Latin IV (AP Vergil).

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on June 7, 2006 9:22 PM

An odd rembrance and one that stuck in my mind long after the fond and loving vision of my oldest daughter graduating from college faded. One of her classmates, or the classmate's family, was from a middle eastern country where people (women?) do some kind of weird high-pitched yodel/scream/singsong. As said classmate walked across the stage, someone in the upper balcony seats let out with this noise that could only be compared to a young bull calf being castrated.

And this I remember...

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on June 8, 2006 12:51 AM

I graduated from high school in 1993 and there was certainly no whooping from family members or anyone else in attendance. At the beginning of the ceremony, the audience was asked to hold their applause until all the graduates had accepted their diplomas. And non-graduates certainly didn't participate in the ceremony.

The principal recollection I have from my graduation ceremony was the heat of the high school auditorium and the extreme boredom I felt through the whole ordeal. What a bummer.

Posted by: phil on June 8, 2006 1:59 AM

I agree--there should be some discernable difference between a graduation and a basketball game. I loved the phrase "...their own little darling strode across the stage to snatch a diploma." "Snatching" is intrinsically undignified. When I got my master's degree, it was at a large public university, and so all master's and doctoral candidates from many disciplines were "graduated" at the same time. They announced it by degree---like "M.B.A. candidates" or "M.F.A candidates" and the entire group rose and re-seated in unison--nobody walked across the stage. No tassel flipping. Makes it all go much quicker. I must admit, though---I remember absolutely nothing about the ceremony besides that. I couldn't tell you who spoke, what they said, how long it lasted. I think graduation ceremonies are implicitly more for the parents and families than for the graduates themselves.

Posted by: annette on June 8, 2006 8:11 AM

At least you said "graduating FROM high school" instead of just "graduating high school," one of my biggest pet peeves!

Posted by: beloml on June 8, 2006 8:53 AM

This past graduation season a bishop officiating at a Catholic high school grad. ceremony walked out after asking several times for quiet from graduates families and friends. (Sorry I can't remember who or where) Some of these people professed shock, aparently having no idea that their noise was inappropriate. Interestingly, the kids graduating behaved. Maybe we've bottomed out and are on our way up?

Posted by: Bradamante on June 8, 2006 10:24 AM

"School officials did nothing to stop the behavior."

That's the key.

Posted by: ricpic on June 8, 2006 11:01 AM

>> I just couldn't quite believe that a massive genetic shift had occurred between my generation and the following one.

Maybe not genetic, but a cultural one sure did. I graduated from high school in 1989, and it seems that I have a lot more in common with people who graduated ten years before me, than with ones who graduated three years later.

Posted by: hugh on June 8, 2006 11:53 AM

My grandmother never attended any graduation ceremonies - she just gave the graduate $20. Everyone professed to be happier.

Posted by: ptm on June 8, 2006 2:12 PM

I went to my first ever American high school graduation this year. It was painful. Some of the young people in the family came prepared- they played travel Scrabble in the audience throughout. I was reduced to figuring out the country of origin of each of the graduate's names on the programme one by one.

Can someone convince me I'm mistaken?


Posted by: Alice on June 9, 2006 9:40 AM

Actually, like the character in Shakespeare, nothing suited our Lousy Ivy University like leaving it. The graduation ceremony included an address in Latin; a printed version was given to all the students, with footnotes indicating when to laugh, when to cheer, etc. The assembled cast of parents, siblings, etc., were at least momentarily conned into believing that virtually the entire student body could speak Latin!

Best official aspect of the whole four years!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 10, 2006 10:38 AM

The one posted by Friedrich is funny! For me, the last one I have attented was more than 30 years ago. I haven't an impression of what was it like now. But, if my parents would like to attend my graduation ceremonies, I would have been there.

look from studio LDA

Posted by: look on June 13, 2006 1:15 AM

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