I Never Graduated From High School
I was at a primary school graduation ceremony this week. This was a new experience for me. Let me be clear, I’ve satisfied a variety of academic desiderata over the years. But growing up when and where I did, the ritual and experience of graduation was alien to me. The end of secondary education was accompanied by no particular ceremony and the very last day of mandatory education was accompanied by no piece of paper distinct from the aggregate of specific accreditation I had somehow managed to accumulate. In fact, the attitude of the school (and every school that I was aware of at the time) was “Hang on, you’re HOW old? Really? Shoo – be off with you now…”
Some years ago I attended my niece’s high school graduation ceremony in Canada. I had seen such things in movies, but even I was startled by it. For one thing, it went on forever. In fact I think it’s still going on. I’m certain that the Aaronson twins had come back for their class reunion before the Zimmermans had even picked up their certificates. The occasion was marked by interminable speeches. The three or four teenagers with the best teeth got up and spouted some abstract nouns which were thrown up into the air and landed in slightly different sequences. Then someone who was clearly regarded as the class clown got up and and said a few things about how crazy everyone was and then got serious and and threw the same abstract nouns into the air.
With the globalising of North American culture, school graduation ceremonies have colonised new lands. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing. Because although my schooldays were far less formalised and ritualised, we still had the occasional school event, grand assembly in which speeches would be made.
I have a strong childhood memory of sitting cross legged in a school hall aged about ten while some old guy who I didn’t know but who clearly exuded a sense of local eminence beamed at us and told us that “your schooldays are the happiest of your lives”. I felt my heart sink at these words and I could almost sense the rhythm of hundreds of little hearts sinking in unison. We all thought as one, and what we thought was “… You mean, this is as good as it gets? You mean the stifling tedium and petty discipline of the classroom represents the highpoint of our long lives? You mean it’s all downhill from here?” And I can see the man’s face now, reddened with his own sense of self approval, wallowing in his own assurance that gratifying wisdom had been imparted.
The very very successful primary school graduation ceremony I was at was for thirteen year olds. They were all happy. They were happy because they all liked each other and were in a mood to treat each other generously. The ceremony was an excuse to focus and acknowledge this sentiment. Speeches are always a bit otiose in such situations and should be kept short. Which they were.