HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION AS IT COULD BE
by Lon Woodbury
[The following are some insights into a recent graduation ceremony I attended on December 23, 2010, held at Boulder Creek Academy, which is located in Bonners Ferry, ID and situated at the base of the spectacular Cabinet Mountains.]
The other morning I had the honor and privilege of attending a graduation ceremony at Boulder Creek Academy, an Emotional Growth/Therapeutic Boarding School of about 80 students here in North Idaho. Even though none of these four graduates were my clients, these ceremonies are one of the most pleasant parts of my work as an educational consultant because positive feelings run high.
These graduation ceremonies are both a celebration of the accomplishments of the graduates during their time at the school, and are also treated as the first day of the rest of their lives. Parents, staff and all the other students were there to cheer the graduates on and celebrate with them. It becomes a real community event in the best sense of the word. Everybody associated with the school comes together to honor the graduates and give them a well deserved focus of their attention. In an almost measurable sense, all the graduates know they are honored, respected and cared for. There couldn't be a better send off for a young person facing the challenges of adulthood.
At events like this, it always comes to mind to compare these graduations with graduations of large schools, especially public schools which are based on the concept of mass education. Most public schools have graduation classes of a hundred, five hundred, or even more than a thousand graduates. There is no way each graduate can be shown the individualized honor, respect and caring for, I just saw that morning.
In a large school, instead of each graduate having a few minutes to bask in the attention of the community, the only individual attention each one gets is the few seconds when they walk across the stage to receive their diploma (hurry up and don't take too long), or the desperate attempt by a few to stand out from the crowd by wearing something silly. Otherwise most graduates of a mass education institution are just passive spectators, with only a small handful asked to speak for the whole class, usually the valedictorian(s) and perhaps the salutatorian(s). Instead of a real celebration of their accomplishments, for most graduates it becomes something to be endured.
In contrast, what I saw this morning was a typical introduction by the head of the school, followed by a staff member who told amusing and personal stories of his experiences with each of the graduates during their time at the school. Then, each graduate comes up front to receive his diploma and a rose, a symbol of completeness, and to address the group. For teenagers, they were remarkably articulate with a decently comfortable presence, remarkable largely because just a year or so earlier ever accomplishing anything like a graduation was problematic.
Once they had received their diplomas and shared with the group their feelings of appreciation for what had been done for them and their appreciation by name of special relationships they had developed at the school, the program was completed by a PowerPoint presentation of pictures from their whole life that had been shared by their parents.
Seeing what can be done for these graduates should be an inspiration for our society to figure out how we can do the same for all our graduates. A big order, but this morning convinced me the effort would be well worth it.