How we celebrate graduations

Seniors from Lake Stevens High School graduated at Comcast Arena on June 8. The venue allowed practically unlimited seating for parents and well-wishers who filled three-quarters of the arena’s seats. The Big Screen, state-of-the-art sound and dozens of access points to seating made Comcast an excellent choice.

To visitors from far places, a high school graduation ceremony would be a cultural shock to leave them gaping in disbelief. Not that our style is wrong but that it has become a picture of who we are, what our aspirations are and what we think of ourselves as a society.

Start with dress. Every style was present—Traditional, Goth, cowboy, beach-garb, biker leathers and what have you. Well-wishers decorated with tattoos dressed to display body art. Sleeveless gym-rats showed off bulked-up biceps. Sex-pots bared a maximum of skin. The Harley fraternity was decorated in tribal colors (black). Traditionalists arrived in conventional attire spanning casual office to wedding guest.

All in all, the crowd was bent on self-expression, or better yet, expression of self. It displayed the generational switch from a time when people gathered to celebrate others’ achievement by agreeing on a tribal uniform of dress-up clothes. That way, the herd pulled together to visibly honor graduates. Dressing up said, “We’ve cleaned up and put on our best as a statement of respect for what you’ve accomplished.” The motive for dressing up is to honor the stars of the show, whether a graduation, wedding or funeral.

Fill a hall with people in dress-up clothes and they blend together. And that’s good when the intent is to honor the stars. The ones who are supposed to stand out are the graduates. All the focus should be on the accomplishment and significance of moving from high school to the next stage of life.

Except for the Jewish bar mitzvah, high school graduation is society’s only rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. Most of this year’s graduates will feel this and take their places in the world while an unfortunate few will remain stuck in childhood as they age. Kids need help in understanding the gravity of the shift and guests at graduation ceremonies could lend them a hand by letting their behavior and dress lend aura of dignity to the proceedings.

That may be asking too much of family members and well-wishers in the bleachers who represent different camps. There is the traditional-values bunch that arrives washed and pressed and applauds without spraining vocal cords. Mosh-pit veterans hype-up the decibel level. Inventive dressers from society’s fringes provide a field day for people-watchers. A fourth group, elders, looked somewhat dazed. I was one of those.

Just as dieticians tell us we are what we eat, graduation audiences are a product of society’s audience experiences. The Silvertips draw big audiences. The Mariners, Seahawks, Huskies Tomahawks and Eagles each draw their share. Others enjoy the fights or comedy clubs while relatively few learn audience behavior at concerts or in church. Take an average of those experiences and you get the typical audience of today.

Like every graduation, this one had its special character. Though it’s normal for a few seniors to punctuate the proceedings with pranks, Lake Stevens’ grads conducted themselves amazingly well. A camera set to catch them processing onto the floor gave cameo opportunities for funny faces, fist-bumps and hugs. They carried it off well. Student-speakers reached for droll humor but would have done better to focus more on the significance of graduation rather than tidbits from the class’s past.

There were plenty of winners. LSHS seniors walked off with almost a million dollars in scholarships. Extra diligent students earned two, three or four while one outstanding young man scored ten scholarships. But the one that grabbed the crowd’s heart was the U-Turn Scholarship, a $500 award to a student who turned her life around. The long list of individual and organizational scholarship sponsors showed the vastness of public support for tomorrow’s leaders. And lest Marysville think it holds a monopoly on the inspirational Jubie family’s charity, Cole Knowlden won a scholarship funded by Larry Jubie.

Though the ceremony lasted for more than two hours, it passed all too swiftly for the grads. They queued up in batches at stairs to the stage, waited for their names to be called, shook a presenter’s hand while taking diploma-folders with the other hand, smiled for the camera and it was over. The end of high school. The closing of a chapter they knew well, the opening of a chapter they know little about.

All in all it was a grand affair. It would be nice though, if graduation ceremonies were more ceremony than happening. In a happening, everyone gets to participate. They don’t mean to hog the show. They just like to be heard and seen. But graduation is not the same as the Rocky, Horror Picture Show where screen stars trigger action in the audience. Since graduation is a big deal for young men and women, it would be a good thing if the guests could forget about calling attention to themselves.

This is part of a wish that students, parents and society in general might take education more seriously and that the culmination of twelve or thirteen years of education be celebrated with dignity befitting the life-changing accomplishment it truly is.

Comments may be addressed to rgraef@verizon.net.

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