Ah, graduation day. Family parties. Student awards. Gold-foiled diplomas. Paparazzi parents. Limo rides to the ceremony. All in celebration of years of hard work and the exciting things to come after high elementary school.
Wait, what? Yes, elementary school graduation ceremonies are becoming more popular than ever, celebrating students as young as kindergarteners. And at my school, the fifth grade graduation is serious business.
Real serious business.
But how young is too young for a full-on graduation celebration?
While I’ve been a fifth grade teacher for seven years, last year was my first at a private school—and my first experiencing a graduation ceremony of this magnitude. I much preferred the hour-long dance parties I’d had with my students in public school, which we did on the last day of classes to celebrate a great year together.
This was especially true when a few weeks before fifth grade graduation, I received a jarring parent email.
“I would like to know if (name deleted) is going to be the only kid not receiving an award on graduation day, because I am going to save him from the embarrassment and favoritism that has been shown all year and will not have him at the graduation.”
Awards are part of the end-of-year hoopla at my school and the hardest thing I have to do all year. Picking five of 14 students to be called before the crowd seems like a tough break for the other nine. The only thing separating the students who do and do not receive awards is a razor’s edge difference in grades. Someone is always going to be left out and clearly, the parents feel the pressure.
I chose not to answer the email, knowing the accusation was sent in a state of anxiety and was unfounded. The boy in question would indeed receive an award, not because of his mother’s insistence, but because his academic achievement warranted it.
On the day of the ceremony, that pupil and four others were acknowledged and applauded and posed for pictures together in new dress clothes. Verbally, I congratulated all the students—regardless of their achievements—on having an excellent year and wished them well at their new schools. I even got an apology from Angry Mom.
Elementary school graduation goes on … and so do I
But as I approach yet another year’s graduation, I’m left feeling uneasy. Not to take away anything from my current class of amazing, wonderful students as they prepare to head out to new schools, but I believe that such commencement festivities should be reserved for the end of high school and college. After all, when you’ve had a limo ride at the age of 11, what else is there to look forward to? How do you top that measure of glorification in the future, when such accolades have already been received? Is it too much, too soon, or a commendable way to celebrate our children and their accomplishments?
I don’t know the right answer, but it’s time for me to hand in my choices for this year’s awards. No matter who is awarded, there’s one thing we’re all going to do the day before graduation.
We’re going to dance like there’s no tomorrow.