Last week was 8th grade graduation. Parents were invited (I use that term loosely. Let’s face it, it’s mandatory to attend anything for your child that has the words ‘celebration’, ‘graduation’ and/or ‘promotion’ in the title) to come celebrate their child’s ‘promotion’ to high school.
I have many problems with this. I have had problems with the kindergarten graduation ceremony, 5th grade graduation ceremony and naturally, I had a problem with this one as well. This is not a local phenomenon (the idea that we need to ‘celebrate’ accomplishing what is expected), I can speak for at least 3 areas in the south where I’ve lived in the last 15 years, who all believed that it was important to lavish praise on our children for passing on to the next grade. When did passing to the next grade become cause for celebration? And not just celebration, folks, we’re talking balloons, bouquets, gifts, and flying in family from all over the country here. I would love to know, just what is the perfect gift for passing the 8th grade? If you spend hundreds of dollars on your child for surviving the harrowing experience of middle school then you’ve raised the bar to a crazy place for high school graduation. Ladies and gentleman, I beg you here, if you can’t think about the precedence you’re setting for your own household, then think of all the other parents that you’ve now made look bad because we don’t understand (and thus, refuse to partake in) what you’re doing. Was there really ever a moment when you thought jr. wasn’t going to make it on to 9th grade? Obviously, I’m not referring to children that have real social or physical issues that limited their school performance in some way. I’m talking to the 99% of us who have been blessed with average (or above) kids that had no problem getting through the school year intact. What in the world do you have planned for high school graduation, college, and holy cow, the wedding??
What happened to the days when we were given our award for citizenship, school spirit, handwriting (oh, yes they did that!) attendance..etc, in the gym in front of our peers? Our parents weren’t dragged to the school to celebrate this moment. I don’t even think my parents knew it had occurred! And, let me tell you, I received a folder full of those certificates of achievement every year. I was proud to get them, I even looked forward to it. But I never expected anything more than that feeling of pride in myself for having done something well (bragging rights were nice, too). That’s it. No balloons, no flowers, no family hugs…yet somehow I made it through the night.
Now the icing on the cake, after sitting through the mandatory honking, squeaking and tooting of the middle school band (actually the band was quite good, I was impressed), and pledge of allegiance while carefully omitting the prayer, this beloved promotion ceremony that was created for the purpose of celebrating each and every child’s fantabulous achievement of passing was halted for 30 minutes of speeches to single out 4 ‘extra amazing’ individuals that needed recognition for their character, integrity, etc…wait a minute, I thought we were brought there to exalt even our most mediocre, expected achievement and then I became confused, were we actually called there to praise, single out, only 4 of these kids?? Clearly, if you’re going to have a heart attack or if there’s a natural disaster you better find one of these 4 kids because your own kids ain’t gonna be enough (even though they passed 8th grade). I’m not biased here, I wouldn’t expect any other parent to listen to a speech about the awesomeness of any of my amazing children (and let me tell you, my kids’ awesomeness would blow your socks off) unless they were invited there for that specific reason, full disclosure included.
Sadly, for about 10 seconds, I felt bad that I had shown up at this momentous occasion empty-handed. But, alas, the feeling passed and I remembered that my son did exactly what was expected of him and deserved exactly what I received at that time in my life, a spot in the 9th grade class. Clearly there have always been magnificent children, regardless of which decade they are being raised, and there will continue to be many more, I would never suggest that we shouldn’t recognize the value of praising a child, I only ask that we step back and ask if we’re going overboard.
Someday I may realize that I was wrong, I should have taught him early on that each and every achievement was cause for a grand celebration, but I seriously doubt it. I believe he’ll learn self-pride, confidence and motivation from knowing that he did an awesome job, not because of the praise he received from others, but because of the praise he learned to give himself. How in the world can a child, any of us really, learn to live with ourselves if we’re taught that self-worth comes from outside of us?
If you’ve read my blog before you’ve got to be asking yourself, what the hell does any of that have to do with writing? Ummmm….actually it does relate to my writing.
My writing, like yours, is a product of my own experiences. I create characters that I know, see, feel and grow with. As a writer for children and teens I often think about the affect my characters will have on my readers. I am sometimes shocked and saddened at the way society wants us to raise our children. If I successfully remove even one child from the pressure of their day, make them laugh and think about things in a different way, through one of my stories, then I will die happy.
It’s moments like ‘8th grade graduation’ that inspire me to go on, keep writing. Find writing inspiration in your life, from your own colorful experiences, remember many of us have been there, too, and would love to join you for the ride.