Some time ago (in the post I wrote here ) I mentioned that we couldn’t plan on returning to the UK after only a couple of years, because once the Weasels began their Secondary Education, it was best we let them see it through. With a three-year age gap between each weasel, that meant that by the time one was done, the next two would be well and truly in it.
Until this week, when Tiny Weasel became the latest to graduate from High School.
So now I’ve attended three North American High School Graduations, and I have to admit, I have questions.
To give you some context, I “graduated” from Perins Secondary school at the age of sixteen in 1988. Back then, that was the end of your mandatory education. You could choose, like I did, to go on to A levels at a college (Still called “Sixth Form Colleges”, though we didn’t have “forms” in the school), but you could also just go out into the workforce.
At sixteen I was studying nine subjects, and when I had taken the last exam, that was it. Since all my peers were doing a different mix of subjects, we all finished school at different times. There was no big leaving ceremony that I remember, and I did not feel that one was lacking. At the end of my A levels, the college had a “Leavers Ball”, but that was more about celebrating social status (it seemed to me) than about the end of college.
In contrast, all three of my weasels have had a big ceremony in some public forum. You have to have tickets to attend, and graduates have robes and hats which are regulated in terms of what you may or may not write on them. Each hat has a tassel which must be attached, and that tassel MUST BE ON THE LEFT as you come on stage for your moment in the spotlight, and YOU YOURSELF must move the tassel over to the RIGHT SIDE on leaving the stage. If you don’t….I dunno, maybe your graduation doesn’t count?
Yes, this was the first graduation we’d been to that didn’t feature that song from “Rent”…
(Not that it’s a bad song, but apparently it got used A LOT!)
No, this year we got the Coast Salish Anthem, which was appropriate for the venue AND the occasion, and the fact the we are supposed to be (at the very least) acknowledging the First Nations in everything we do.
Anyway, that was the right choice. And I like “Hallelujah” as much as the next guy, and the choir did a beautiful rendition of it, but was it a good choice for the occasion? They featured a verse I hadn’t heard before (there are something like fifteen actual verses for the song, though most people use three):
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the profane Hallelujah
I’m the first to admit that I’m picky about words – it’s a big part of both my jobs. But this verse is saying – what? That it doesn’t matter what’s said, it matters what the person saying it means? Or that it DOESN’T matter what the person saying it means? Because I have to say, these days we are all trying hard to get people to understand that WORDS DO MATTER. That what you say can be damaging to other people, that your intention does not negate the harm you can cause with the wrong words.
Then we got “Pomp and Circumstance”, which North Americans only know as The Graduation March, but Brits know as “Land of Hope and Glory”.
If you were aiming to De-colonise some North American traditions, maybe look at removing the tune that goes along with one of the most bombastic and imperial “hymns” out there? Oh, that’s not what you hear when the tune plays? Listen, I know this guy, Leonard Cohen? He says it doesn’t matter what you heard….
Why though, asks Mrs Dim, after the ceremony is done. Why that tune still? If the answer is “because we always use that tune…” then NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Try again.
Following the entrance of the Class of 2022, we had three speeches from members of the educational establishment. They were all different, but all said much the same thing, and yes, they were generally in praise of what these kids had endured under the crazy years of Covid restrictions. But three speeches is, as far as I’m concerned, two too many, especially when the night is getting cold, and we haven’t even gotten to the presentation of the thing they earned with their five years of school.
And there was longer to wait, because first you get the presentation of the Scholarships and special prizes. Kids trooped across the stage, sometimes more than once or twice, and one had to stand while the announcer detailed that she was getting this scholarship for being poor. (Ok, that’s not the terms they used, but we all understood them.) I don’t know how the other graduands felt, but my elder two in the audience felt lesser for not winning scholarships and awards, and they haven’t been in High School in years. Yes, this is an achievement that should be celebrated, but the scholarships are mentioned as the kid gets their scroll (actually NOT a scroll, but I can’t help myself) anyway, so why the need to announce exactly WHAT the scholarship is? Why not put that info in the programme?
Because, and this is the important part, there are FOUR PAGES of names for this graduating class. They all deserve their time on the stage, being applauded by families and friends, and I would not deny them that. But by the time that walk started, we had already been sitting a long time. The final few grads (my weasel among them) had waited upwards of two hours. And then they all have to sit down again and listen to the Valedictorian speech.
He did a good job, but as the voice of the graduating class, maybe he should have been further up the programme? After all, wasn’t this whole evening supposed to be about them?
This is the essential point of the whole question, I think. Who is this ceremony for? Mrs Dim says the robes and hats imbue some solemnity, and there’s the old argument that everyone looks equal with the gown over their clothes, rich or poor, cool or nerdy. The ceremony is not mandatory, she points out – if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.
That’s fair, but I think there’s a certain amount of expectation from the parents who had their grad in this style. The educational staff who have seen dozens of these ceremonies and know how they “should” go. The PAC members who fundraise for the events around graduation.
With Tiny Weasel’s graduation, we’re done with High School, so we don’t get a vote anymore. We didn’t join the High School PAC, so we didn’t get any input into the graduation (if they have any beyond organising the celebratory dinner dance.) I’m not going to start a crusade to change the culture of graduation in BC. All this pondering of the rights and wrongs will remain just that – pondering.
I’m glad Tiny Weasel got to have a regular graduation ceremony, something she’ll have in common with most of the people she’s likely to meet in her adult life on this continent. She enjoyed it, generally, and she didn’t trip over her gown or lose her hat. Perhaps it was a better send off to the years of school than my own quiet retreat, but I still don’t feel I’ve missed out. My school friends who were worthwhile are still my friends, and there’s nothing more I needed to keep of my school years.