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Opinion & Essays - Aug, 2000 Issue #72 

By Kristie Vollar
Bonners Ferry, Idaho

[The author is the daughter of Woodbury Reports publisher Lon Woodbury and his wife Denise. Kristie graduated from the Explorations Wilderness Assessment Course in Montana in 1993, and Mission Mountain School, also in Montana. Her presence at Woodbury Reports is a demonstration of the positive relationship that has evolved since she has returned from the above-mentioned programs.]

My parents participate in the foreign-exchange student program. Each year they have a child from another country come to live with them for a year. We learn about their customs and cultures and they learn about ours. One of our customs is High School Graduation. Graduation is a big transition in America. It is a symbol of the end of childhood, evolving into “adulthood.”

In a traditional setting, graduation is stereotypical of what we see in the movies. The graduating class marches into the gym or field, two or three at a time, while pomp-and-circumstance plays in the background. The family and friends sit in bleachers around the class that is graduating, and when all of the kids have walked in, they sit down, in one big group in the middle of the observers. Some of the kids wear wild hairdos or something else out of the ordinary to make them more individualized, to stand out in the crowd. The graduation ceremony lasts a couple of hours, while families sit in the stuffy, crowded stands watching the event. The principal gives his speech, and then a small few of the graduating class, the ones who get the best grades, are selected to speak for the entire class. All of the other kids graduating are spoken for by those few who are selected. Then there are the guest speakers and another speech from the principal. When the diplomas are passed out, each kid walks up one at a time, to receive a diploma, which is not personalized, and crosses the “bridge” of graduation. The graduates receive the diploma book, but don’t receive their actual diploma until they turn in their robes at the end of graduation.

I, however, had an entirely different experience for my high school graduation. Picture a small school campus located in a rural valley, surrounded by awe-inspiring mountain ranges. Families arrive a day or two before the actual graduation ceremony, to take part in the two to three day graduation process. During those two or three days, families participate in group activities, with the entire school of 25 girls. Everyone is treated individually, and parents get a chance to learn, as well as participate, in the activities that the girls have been learning and doing for the last year. In the evenings, everyone sits around a campfire, singing songs and reflecting back on what they have accomplished. The girls all work together for weeks, to write, direct, and produce a skit or play for the families who come to the graduation process. The girls not only write the play, they write the music and act in this play, introducing several issues they have been working on while living at the small school.

When I graduated, the total number of girls graduating high school was three. The ceremony was outside under a pavilion and we all sat with our families and friends, making the whole ceremony more personal. Each of us, in turn, got to go up, get our diplomas, and give a little speech. All of us were equal, no one was “better” than anyone else because they had better grades, or tried harder, yet we were all individual with what we said. We also participated in the ceremony “entertainment” by joining the rest of the school in singing a few songs.

After my recent experience at a traditional high school graduation, I reflected back on my own graduation, comparing the difference between the two settings. The first, a crowded, stuffy gym, where for two to three hours, the kids sit in the middle, separated from their families, screaming to be individual yet sitting silently while only a few are able to speak for the entire class, versus two or three days of family bonding, singing by the campfire and an outside ceremony with the graduates sitting among family and friends, and all getting a chance to speak, were very different views of this “rite of passage.” Reflecting in this way made me realize once again just how special my graduation really was. I know that if I had the chance to graduate again, I wouldn’t give up the opportunity I had, and I definitely wouldn’t change a thing.

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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