Deborah Jackson

Monday, July 04, 2011

Uncomfortable silence . . . during graduation?

Last week, it was graduation week in our family. A time of pride and sadness, joy and laughter. But not a time for uncomfortable silence. I usually suppress things that disturb me. I enjoy a moderate opinion on all topics, attempting to see the reasons behind certain behaviour or situations until all sides come to light. Since the reasons were clear for this, but sad and disturbing, I have to comment.

Our two children were graduating, one from high school, one from elementary school. It was a week of ceremonies, parties, proms etc. Hectic, but wonderful. Of course I was overwhelmed with pride and sadness, especially since my daughter will be going on to a different city to study in university. I'll miss her terribly.

My son, however, was graduating from elementary school and heading to high school. It was sad for him to separate from some friends who will be attending other schools, but, for the most part, it should have been a time of pride of accomplishment and excitement over the challenge and opportunities that will arise in the future.

The children worked hard. A number of them put together an amazing video presentation of each and every graduate, beginning with baby pictures and ending with comments from the students about their favourite memory and what they're looking forward to in high school. Several of the students sang, exemplifying their gifts in music, and the principal and vice principal gave speeches, with insight and humour.

Then it came time to hand out "diplomas" and awards. I was surprised as every student's name was called out, they each received an award or two or three (some even four) for academics, arts, band and athletics. In the elementary school my daughter attended, only the top students in these categories were given an award. We all applauded, not only when the student's name was called out, but after the list of awards. But when it came to end of the second row, one student's name was called and nothing followed. No award. The audience was prepared to applaud, but they couldn't and what followed was uncomfortable silence.

How did that poor girl feel? She looked devastated as she traipsed to her spot in the row with the little scroll in her hand and no medals around her neck. My heart went out to her. I wanted to enfold her in my arms and hug her. This wasn't right.

After that, two other students went through the same silence. Three, of all the 80 or so graduates. How could this happen? I learned from my son that the arts and academic awards were only given to students who achieved an 80% average, the sports award went to any student who participated in an extracurricular sport, and the band award to anyone who participated in band. Did we have such gifted students that so many achieved an 80% average? Not everyone is athletic, so not everyone would participate in sports, and certain people would not be enthralled with music. Should we single out these students "not" to receive an award?

I believe everyone is gifted at something, particularly in the arts, but they must be encouraged and praised at some point to work harder and become enthusiastic about what they can do. For some reason, these children didn't reach the same mark. They could have even had a 79% average, but they stood up in that auditorium as the un-achievers. At that moment, when they should have been raising their diplomas, they probably felt like stomping on it. No child should feel this way, ever. We should place some people at the top, but we should never place anyone at the bottom, particularly young and impressionable people who have so much time to learn and grow and the potential to do more than just academics. There's a time for silence, but when there's uncomfortable silence where there shouldn't be, it's time to speak out.

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