[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.
Many people have experienced the over whelming excitement that you feel as you approach high school graduation day, and for me, that’s a day that I will never forget. The amount of emotions that you feel on graduation day is unbelievable, and I have yet to experience anything else like it. I can remember feeling anxious to celebrate the big day with my friends and family, while at the same time I was panicking thinking about having to walk across the stage in front of that many people.
Then, the more I thought about the reality of graduation day, I started to get curious, but nervous, about being able to start a new chapter in my life once graduation day had passed. There are several reasons why I, still to this day, consider high school graduation day one of the most exciting days of my life. As exciting as it was to finally graduate high school, I still had some mixed emotions about it. When they called my name, I walked to the side of the stage, where I had to wait in a short line before actually crossing the stage.
I couldn’t wait to get that diploma in my hand, but I really thought I was going to have a panic attack on the side of the stage before that happened. I finally made it up onto the stage I shook the principles hand one last time as he handed me my diploma, and made it back off the stage without anything embarrassing happening. When I sat back down I felt relief that I had gotten that part over with, and could enjoy the remainder of the graduation. When the graduation ceremony came to an end, I rushed to the auditorium to celebrate with all of my friends and family.
I couldn’t believe how many people came to celebrate our graduation day with us. I knew my friends immediate families, but I got to meet everyone’s extended families, and hear stories about them that I will never forget. Then I took what felt like a million pictures, and hugged everyone I knew, and headed off to my graduation party to continue the celebration with the ones that I loved the most. That night I think I smiled and laughed more than I ever have in my life. As the end of the night approached us, I couldn’t stop thinking about how many mixed emotions I had about starting a whole new chapter in my life.
I couldn’t wait to go to college, meet all new people, get a degree so that I could start my career path, but I knew that meant I had to say goodbye to my two best friends, who were moving several hours away from me. This was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do in my life. We all cried a little, and then made promises to keep in touch, and then we were off into the real world! I was very happy to be at this point in my life, but I was scared deep down inside. When I look back on this day now, I still remember every detail as if it was yesterday.
I was so proud, and happy to be able to celebrate such an amazing day with all of my friends and family. I know I will never forget how embarrassed I was walking across the stage in front of all of those people, feeling famous after taking so many pictures, making our final memories together at our graduation parties, and then being a nervous wreck when it was time to go out into the world without my best friends at my side. High school graduation day was a very emotional day for me, but it was by far the most exciting day I have ever experienced in my life.