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17 June 2009

"As School Year Comes To End, Civilization Hangs by Ever-Fraying Thread"

In an alternate universe where I would somehow have anything to do with publishing a local newspaper, I'd make sure headlines like the title for this blog entry were the order of the day. And if you are of my ilk (i.e. neurotically concerned about the ongoing decline of America - which is to say, a normal and rational person) and would have witnessed my school's graduation last Friday, you'd know how such a headline would be appropriate.

It's not that anything completely awful happened at our ceremony, which took place last Friday in the traditional small (er, medium)-town way, on the football field under a baking June sun. But it does strike me how much has changed so quickly. What would have been considered totally inappropriate for graduates or attendees twenty years ago has become de rigueur. It used to be that if a principal asked the attendees to remain quiet until the last graduate's name was called, they did. And if graduates were threatened with not receiving their diplomas due to poor behavior during the ceremony, they knew to tread lightly. Ah, such days of innocence!

When I first started teaching seven years ago, I quickly realized that compliance was no longer universal, but those family members/friends who broke propriety by whooping it up when their special cupcake's name was called were still the exception, and were easy to dismiss (sad to say) with the use of that fine old condemnatory Southernism, "trashy". In the intervening years, now, trashy has apparently become the new appropriate. On Friday I could count on one hand the number of graduates, out of 390 or so walking the stage, who didn't receive a "Whoo! Whoo!" or "Yeeeeaaaahhh-uhhh! That's my baaaay-bee!!" from somewhere in the crowd. It quickly got to the point that: a) I started feeling sorry for the very few who didn't receive loud applause (had no one under 90 come to see them graduate, I wondered?) and b) I became grateful toward those who let out minimalist "whooping" that didn't run over into the next graduate's name; sure they were rude, but not as rude as the worst offenders.

While most of the graduates did walk the stage with dignity, there were quite a few who either struck poses or found distracting ways to acknowledge the clannish adulation they received - little pretend celebrity punks and punkettes, playing out their fondest awards show fantasies.

Speaking of fantasies, it is no wonder that many teachers express the following as a perfect commencement scenario: Everyone is gathered in place, the graduates march and file into their seats, and, just after the opening invocation, a massive thunderstorm suddenly rushes onto the scene, leaving the principal no choice but to pronounce everyone a graduate and send us all running off to our cars.

Sad, huh?

Hear that creaking noise, fellow Westerners...?


Anonymous said...

I actually was at a high school graduation where your fantasy occurred. Of course, it was back in 1982 - long long ago. At the last HS graduation I attended, I actually made sure I made clapping noise for everyone because some seemed to have so few people in attendance for them. My family is huge so there was quite a bit of noise for our graduates, including, unfortunately, a canned air horn. You really don't get much trashier than that.

School Master P said...

I forgot to mention that air-horns were also present at our little shindig. At least there was no silly-string, however. I'm aware of a family member's graduation that was marred by silly string and beach balls. it so enraged the senior citizen portion of the family that they wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper, though they were from out of town and didn't actually live there.