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Graduation Gone Wild

I wanted to cry at my son's 8th grade graduation, but not for the reasons you might think.

When my oldest child graduated from middle school last week, several people asked me, “Did you cry?”

Actually, I didn’t — although I wanted to, after witnessing the way some people behaved during the 70-minute graduation ceremony —and I’m not talking about the students.

First, Superintendent Hardy Murphy made a quick departure following his speech. Believe me...I was watching. We all were. Now, if he was ill, I'll cut him all the slack in the world. But if he was not sick, Dr. Murphy’s exit – stage right – demonstrated a lack of respect. While he surely had several graduation ceremonies to attend on Tuesday evening, the tufted, leather chair he left so blatantly vacant on-stage didn’t “sit” well with me.

Later, the audience was asked to hold applause until every graduate’s name had been announced.

Yeah. That didn’t work so well, either.

After several names were called, one student’s entourage screeched for her as she walked across the stage. Figuring it was an anomaly of excitement, I was surprised when it happened again…then again. One enthusiastic woman even rushed the stage, climbing up to get a better view of her graduate. Her behavior stunned the crowd into (momentary) silence until another screeching throng whooped it up for their favorite graduate.

Let’s be honest. Graduation ceremonies are boring as hell except for the moment our loved one struts across that stage. Believe me, I’ve done my share of clapping, whistling, hollering and screaming at graduations, but just as audiences today are reminded to turn off mobile devices for the courtesy of others, so too are we asked to withhold cheering until the end. Part common courtesy (so everyone can hear the graduates’ names), it’s also about getting through the ceremony in under ten hours. When the request is given to hold applause, I’m all for it, even for my own child. I’ll clap and scream and hug and embarrass him outside the auditorium, in the car, at the grocery store, etc., just not as the next graduate's name is called. Call me an uptight rule follower — just don’t call me rude.

Before you think I’m a total priss, I’ll concede things could have been worse: no one blared a bullhorn; no Silly String was sprayed; no Frisbees or tortillas whipped around; not a beach ball in sight. Still, the faux-crazed fanaticism strikes a nerve, and I know I’m not the only one who feels it.  

To scream or not to scream? I did a little research. This principal in South Carolina makes no bones about anticipated inappropriate behavior, while some another South Carolina high school actually escorted screaming “yahoos” out of the building and charged one mother with disorderly conduct.

A discussion online at College Confidential reveals that many believe it’s inappropriate to scream during graduation ceremonies...and some students in Cincinnati even had their diplomas taken away for raucous cheering by their friends and family. 

Highland Park native Joanne Jacobs blogged on June 3 about this topic in a post titled “Graduation Etiquette: Sit Down and Shut Up.” The comments section included folks who fall on both side of the aisle, so to speak.

“In the olden days, we used to have these things called manners and a bit of modesty. Now, manners are for suckers and modesty for tight-*sses. Now, everyone must loudly and sentimentally display their emotions and minor achievements with an excessive celebration and a tattoo. We are a classy bunch.”

and

“I teach in Appalachia. Last year one nondescript graduate got a huge ovation from a dozen or so relatives. The teacher sitting next to me told me she was the first one in her very large family to graduate from high school.”

My child's accomplishment last week may not have been as dramatic or hard won as that graduate's in Appalachia, but I believe it’s a matter of fairness. Like all graduates, he deserves to have his name heard, loud and clear.

Jim June 11, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Middle school? Wow! Spare me. But no one should be surprised. we now have a coarse culture populated by boors who have no regard for anyone (maybe not even themselves) and are perfectly willing to make fools of themselves in public. To boot, this is Evanston. Oh well, it could be worse and probably will be.
Faith June 11, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Thank you for writing this article. I couldn't agree more. Our children are well into their 20's now but the same thing happened during their 8th grade graduations. We didn't hear our older son's name called during his graduation, even though the principal had stated in the beginning to wait until everyone's name was called to clap. Unfortunately, he didn't really do anything to stop these boorish parents who continued to shout out. When our second son graduated the principal stated that the ceremony would be stopped every time someone shouted out. He actually reprimanded the parents. It was about time someone did. And he followed up. He stopped the ceremony several times. When some parents continued to shout out more and more people actually turned around to the offenders and told them to be quiet and sit down. After a few times of that it got noticeably quieter.
Christine Wolf June 11, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Actually, yes, middle school. What kind of message do the students get when, after weeks of practicing for the ceremony -- weeks that could have been used for academic instruction -- many audience members ignore the solemnity of the event?
Candace Hill June 11, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Heh, you should attend a graduation at Chute, because the principal there, the awesome Jim McHolland manages that event like a drill sergeant. The students receive their diplomas by row, and then each row gets a whoop and a holler. Parent and instructed several times, most emphatically, that every child is equal and deserves the exact same expressions of joy. Also, all of the student's teachers are behind stage in lines on each side of the seated graduates. Nothing happens unseemly. There very much is a talent to making these events run right, but it can be done. Principals and staff who do not know how to do it successfully can be instructed. ETHS graduation is exceptional, there are so many students to get through the ceremony, 600+, that there are two people at the podiums calling out names and the stream is constant. You have to pay very close attention to see your family member, but the names are scrolled on the overhead scoreboard, that's neat. Give Hardy a break, he has to go to five different graduations in one night driving around town like mad, and I don't think anyone is out there saving him a parking space at each one. Do you?
Jerseygirl June 11, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Get rid of of preschool graduations,, kindergarten graduations,5th graduations, and 8th grade graduations.
Jim June 11, 2012 at 05:05 PM
AMEN
MrsSmith June 11, 2012 at 07:11 PM
I saw similar behavior at my niece's KINDERGARTEN graduation, with very little (if anything) done to remind parents of appropriate behavior. So many people rushed to the front, we could barely see my niece. Candace: great to hear that about Chute! Sounds like a great method.
Faith June 11, 2012 at 09:12 PM
My children did graduate from Chute and McHolland was there but not yet as principal. As I recall he did our younger son's graduation and he was the one that stopped the ceremony a number of times. I'm glad to hear he's gotten even better at it. Yes, ETHS is totally different. The sound system is pretty good though and you can hear your child's name, even with all the whooping and hollering. When my son graduated 9 years ago there were more than 800 seniors graduating. That was a long ceremony. The only thing I wish they would do is not allow people to bring in air horns.
Mimi Roeder June 11, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Dr. Murphy gets a "hall pass" Jim McHolland is simply the best. The world of civility has gone off the dock. People wear pajamas in public, use swear words to communicate and are just plain obnoxious when it comes to celebrating their own kids. Why do we celebrate the silliness of graduating from anything less than High School?
Faith June 11, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Some places call the preschool, kindergarten and 5th grade ceremonies 'promotion' ceremonies now rather than graduations. I agree they aren't necessary. I never had any of those growing up. My parents sent me to a Catholic grade school and I did have a graduation ceremony from 8th grade. Considering I went to the same school for 8 years it was a special rite of passage. Of course, that was a long time ago! Here in Evanston though most of the children don't attend the same school for 8 years so it seems somewhat ridiculous to have so many ceremonies. In addition, 8th grade graduation wasn't cheap! Parents would probably have a fit if they did away with it. Soooo glad I'm done with all that!
Marci June 11, 2012 at 10:56 PM
As a former middle school administrator, I hope that the families that behaved that way had the same enthusiasm supporting teachers, volunteering at their child's schools, helping with homework, and teaching their children the importance of education. Unfortunately, so much of our society is the celebration of an "award" without the dedication and celebration to the hard work along the way. And really, this is a middle school graduation. Raise expectations. Save the celebration for high school, college, graduate school, etc. The school I worked at had many families who had first generation high school graduates, but there wasn't the insanity at the middle school level graduation. The energy was saved for high school graduation. Which makes sense. Sounds like the principal at Chute has got the right idea. Kudos to him for following through on his high expecations!
Lori Keenan June 14, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Christine - couldn't agree more and it was the same chaos at Haven's ceremony. Hardy always does the quick exit after his uninspiring speech, and yes, for his nearly $300k/yr salary, I think he can be bothered to endure the whole ceremony despite conflicts of schedule or parking issues. In fact, I think it's literally the least he can do. It was the same behavior by him and the audience two years ago when our son also graduated from Haven. In fact, at that time I wish Hardy had stayed to hear the two ETHS grads outshine him by running circles around him both in content and presentation! If that's the best Hardy can do, then we should get a more inspiring presenter - and one who cares enough to stick around after his (lackluster) remarks. As my mother-in-law used to say about the priest's homily, he "pulled it off the fax." Anachronistic, but fitting. But back to the bedlam... Decorum would be wonderful at these events, and withholding the graduate's diplomas might be the best way to establish a little respect by the posse that would whoop and holler through another graduate's name being announced. But, it's like the leaf-blower ordinance in Evanston; if no one is going to enforce the rules, then why should anyone pretend to live by them? McHolland is the only one who delivered what was promised and no doubt his graduates and their families appreciate and respect him. Therein lies the rub.

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