Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Beach Balls, Bubbles, and Diplomas

I must admit being conflicted about this Steve Chapman piece on rowdy graduations. In my three graduations (high school, college, and law school), I put a message on my mortarboard every time. I also wore shorts to every ceremony. To my delight at the time, my mother proclaimed my high school graduation to be the most ill-behaved that she had seen, and she had seen at least five of them, not including her own.

No matter what hardships a student or family endured to reach the commencement ceremony, it is difficult for me to grant it the seriousness of a wedding or even a confirmation service. An exchange student from Finland who lived in my college dorm said that they do not have such formal graduation ceremonies in Europe. We guessed that it was because there is so little formality and tradition in America that we go all out for diploma distribution.

My recent experience viewing graduation ceremonies involves the affluent Minneapolis suburbs of Wayzata and Maple Grove. To my horror, the powers-that-be are now prohibiting short pants. There may have been other rules; I couldn't get past that one. The soap bubbles and beach balls of my youth are but a memory. Still, if other commencement ceremonies are getting out of hand, I support the school administrators in making reasonable restrictions. This leads me to the disturbing, yet predictible fallout, as outlined in the Chapman piece:

In the enforcement phase, the students perceived racial bias, noting that four of them are black and the other is Hispanic. At other schools, there have been complaints that imposing commencement decorum amounts to forcing nonwhites to abide by stuffy white conventions.

There is no infallible way to define and detect "disruptive behavior," but the school did its best by stationing four observers around the auditorium, and all four wrote down the same five names during the ceremony. Are the educators racist? When I called one of the kids who were punished, Nadia Trent, she said that during her student days, she had never encountered racial bias from school officials.

In any event, bad behavior is not a product of skin color. Well-to-do white schools have their share of people who feel entitled to do whatever they want regardless of how it affects others. Back in 1999, an outdoor venue in suburban Chicago banned a local high school from holding commencement exercises there after students and parents threw marshmallows, trampled flowers, ignored no-smoking signs and insulted employees. This is a high school that is less than 1 percent black.

I have nothing to add.

Labels: ,


Blogger Derek said...

I love the paradigm of Americans as uncouthe barbarians, who just don't understand the need for pomposity and ceremony.

I am proud to count myself among them.

June 13, 2007 1:40 PM  
Blogger Mahan said...

At my own high school, which was at one point noted for its "snob appeal" (I believe they've attempted to tone that down), myself and five other gentlemen were left without female escorts. Given the solemnity of the occasion, we thought it right and proper to mark this sad affair with white armbands on our blue blazers, proclaiming NO DATE in bright red ink, to the Head of School's slight chagrin.

Most of the parents thought it was hilarious.

June 13, 2007 6:04 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home