A ‘Graduation Walk’ Not Taken
by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning SPECIALIST
I heard a story today that made me sad. It prompted me to think about the complex relationship between schools and students and life.
A member of the senior class at this high school has told his teachers, guidance counselors and administrators that he intends to fail all his classes. He does not want to “walk” to get his diploma with the rest of his class. He plans to go to summer school to make up the classes he failed and get his diploma at the end of the summer. He comes to school and attends classes but he does no work. He has his plan and he’s sticking to it.
It struck me how sad that is, not to want to take the “graduation walk” and celebrate graduation with his classmates. It made me remember my high school graduation and the mounting anticipation in the weeks leading up to it.
My class chose the colors of the caps and gowns we would wear: royal blue for the boys and white for the girls. We filled out the form stating how we wanted our name to appear on our diploma. We listened to speeches from our classmates to choose the graduation speakers. We did all these things as individuals who were part of a group, a class. The graduating class.
After final exams came Senior Week. Four days of rehearsals and special events like the senior awards ceremony and the senior beach party. Then, finally, came the day of graduation. I dressed nervously in my cap and gown and paraded with my classmates into the field house for the ceremony. I looked around at the crowd of proud families and friends sitting in the stands, watching and waiting anxiously for their graduate’s name to be called. When my name was called I walked self-consciously across the stage and proudly accepted my diploma from the principal and the president of the school committee. I felt triumphant. I had done it! I had graduated. It was the greatest accomplishment of my young life. I still have the tassel that hung from my cap, a happy memento of that day.
It saddens me that a young man would not want to participate in this momentous occasion of his young life. What has happened to this student to sour his attitude toward education? Or is it only his attitude toward graduation, and the pressures of graduation?
Has the system failed to meet his learning needs? Or has the constant pressure of academic performance standards compounded by mounting uncertainty about future employability overwhelmed him?
Maybe it’s the tests. Students need to pass many more tests now than in my day. Maybe this student doesn’t test well, or suffers from test anxiety. Maybe he will find it less stressful during the summer, when the pressure is lower.
Maybe it’s learning style. Not every student learns the same way. Our understanding of learning styles is vastly more refined than when I was in high school. Teachers are expected to be aware of the individual needs of a student in order to support that student in reaching the highest standard of learning he can achieve. But teachers are hard pressed to adjust their teaching styles to meet all of the identified diverse needs of today’s students. And many social and emotional and even cognitive needs cannot be met in the classroom.
Another important component of education is helping students learn how to handle challenge and adversity. It’s preparation for life after high school. The individual accommodations afforded by school will not always be available outside the classroom.
In a short time, this student will be entering life after high school. I hope he does not regret his decision not to “walk” with his classmates. I hope he finds success and is happy with his choices. I hope he has friends, family and colleagues to walk with him when school yields to life.