In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
When I was a kid, the first real graduation ceremony came at the end of high school. The second was at the end of college.
Now, graduations are everywhere. Yesterday The Boy graduated from the fourth grade. (Officially, it was a “moving up” ceremony, since fifth grade is held in a different building, but everyone called it graduation.)
It’d be easy to do the standard “Kids Today...” rant, so I won’t. If anything, the fourth grade version was much sweeter than the college version.
The dress code for the kids broke pretty clearly along gender lines; most of the girls wore pretty dresses, and most of the boys looked like they had just rolled out of bed. (To his credit, TB was dapper.) Since the ceremony was held in the un-air-conditioned cafetorium, nobody wore caps and gowns. The kids performed several songs as a chorus, including choreography and mass playing of recorders. The audio was terrible, the room dimly lit, and the cafeteria tables and benches uncomfortable and sticky.
But they did a slideshow that broke my heart. They showed a baby picture of a student, without a name, and wrote under it that student’s career ambition. Then they showed a current picture of the student, with his/her name. (Apparently, in 2000-1 someone passed a law that all girls had to be named Madison, Sophia, or Kayla. There wasn’t a Jennifer, Susan, or Ann in the entire fourth grade. And Hunter is the new Brian.) The combination of baby pictures, kid pictures, and career ambitions was better than any graduation speaker I’ve ever seen.
To judge from the slideshow, about twenty years from now we’ll be amply supplied with veterinarians, video game designers, teachers, basketball players, and -- surprisingly -- engineers. One kid wanted to be an “astroveterinarian,” which I assume would involve tending to ailing aliens. (“Open, uh, an orifice and say “ahhh...”) Another kid just wanted to own a mansion. One identified “rock star,” and one brave soul named “anything.”
We don’t do that in college. At this level, graduation is about the institution bestowing something upon recipients who have shown themselves worthy. In the fourth grade, it’s more like celebrating each individual kid, and trying to capture the memory before they get even taller.
Afterwards, we took TB and The Girl out to lunch to celebrate. The Girl, all of six, used air quotes correctly in doing a spot-on imitation of her art teacher. (“She tells us that if we talk while we’re painting, we lose (air quote) our power (air quote).” We all laughed out loud, even knowing we really shouldn’t.) Grandma, visiting for the occasion, presented TB with a “build your own skeleton hand” kit, which he had assembled by the end of the day, and which he used to pet the dog.
If this is what the next generation looks like, I feel much better about the future. And if this is what a fourth-grade graduation looks like, then I officially renounce the “Kids Today” huffing about graduations.
Rock on, TB. The fifth grade won’t know what hit it.
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