Beach Ball Graduation

The graduation beach ball debate is a fascinating example of a bigger issue not just in our community but across the nation as a whole; how do we deal with changing social norms when members of different generations come together in a social setting?

Clarke Daily News - Opinion & Editorial

The Clarke County High School graduation beach ball “tradition” highlights the challenge.

Our students, who have worked hard for many years, are elated when they finally reach their first major milestone on the road to adulthood – graduation. (And, by the way, we are all very proud of the graduating class of 2011’s accomplishments!)

But many people in the “older” generation view the graduation ceremony as a dignified celebration that marks twelve years of social and intellectual learning. The fact that many students prefer to use the graduation ceremony as a chance to demonstrate their new found independence from school rules is seen, by some, as disrespectful toward our community after it has sacrificed time, effort and dollars to help the next generation have a better standard of living.

Education is the first step on the path to the American Dream in this country and always has been. It is a gift to each successive American generation by the previous generation going back to our forefathers. Affordable, quality  education has been what has distinguished America from other societies since our nation was founded. While it may not necessarily seem like it to a new high school graduate, your accomplishment is still a very big deal to the rest of us.

That’s why bouncing beach balls while a guest speaker is attempting to provide heart-felt advice on how to be successful in life is considered rude by today’s social standards. Perhaps that standard is changing as new generations have more impact on societal norms, but for now it embarrasses a lot of older people on behalf of their community.

Even worse, trying to police beach ball bouncing during the graduation ceremony only draws more attention to the problem and is the wrong approach.

High school graduation is our national celebration of entry into adulthood. Even though newly graduated eighteen-year-old students still have certain restrictions on what they can legally do after graduating from high school – most notably alcohol consumption – our society no longer thinks of them as “kids” in quite the same way – nor should we. By the time a person has lived eighteen years they’ve probably absorbed about as much advice and guidance as our society is able to collectively offer.

But the beach ball phenomenon is not really about one generation’s “anger” or “control” towards another generation. It’s really about the older generation’s deep love for the children that its community has spent eighteen years raising. Afterall, it’s been our job to protect and guide our students up until graduation and it’s tough to just let go sometimes. The world can be a scary place, especially for a parent. Our greatest societal hope is that the each successive class of graduates will have absorbed enough knowledge, education and wisdom to make the world a better place. At the same time, our young adults have earned the right to take charge of their own lives by the time they graduate from Clarke County High School so perhaps older generations can be forgiven for wanting to mark the passing of the torch with a formal celebration welcoming the new graduates into the adult world.

But the bottom line is that the new graduates have earned the right to make their own mark in the world. As sad as it might be to some in our community, the new adults have the right to break with old traditions and establish their own. That being said, the real solution is for the Clarke County Public Schools to ask each senior class what it would like to see for its graduation ceremony and then to live with the result. For example, as new adults, the graduating class should decide whether or not it prefers to sit for an hour in robes listening to a commencement speaker on a hot June day. And while there are some rules that our society observes, like not ignoring a speaker by bouncing beach balls, the next graduating class might decide to skip the idea of a commencement speaker and simply walk across the stage, accept their newly earned diplomas and move on with life. Alternatively they might decide to continue with the commencement speaker tradition and self-enforce a beach ball ban amongst their classmates.

Regardless of the decision one thing is certain though, the current blend of beach party and formality at the graduation ceremony is not the most satisfactory approach for either camp.

It’s time that the school administration embrace the challenge of changing times. Instead of attempting to force decorum at the next CCHS graduation ceremony why not try something different by giving the entire planning responsibility to the Class of 2012? Let the class decide what the next graduation ceremony will look like. For instance, maybe they can find a commencement speaker who doesn’t see beach ball bouncing during a speech as rude. If so, announce in advance that beach balls are welcome at the ceremony (and in the audience seating area as well.) Or maybe the class will decide to skip the graduation ceremony altogether – do away with gowns and substitute a community pot-luck supper perhaps?

Who knows what might come from the experiment but it has to be better than what we have now. If the students are tired of the way things have always been then let’s give them the choice (and responsibility) to do it better.  Afterall, they’re adults now and have earned the right to decide.

Good luck graduating Class of 2011, we’re behind you every step of the way, now and forever.



  1. Stonebroke says:

    “Who knows what might come from the experiment but it has to be better than what we have now.”

    What is wrong with the way it is done now? Just because a few geezers got offended by the beach balls, we are now going to cancel graduation ceremonies! WoW!

    • Why don’t you read the article again before you jump to that conclusion.

    • Denise Enger says:

      I hardly consider myself a “geezer” at the ripe old age of 46 (I guess that’s all relative, though!) but I have to say that I was offended by the behavior as well. I’ll also add that my daughter, who was one of the graduates, and certainly not a “geezer” at 18, also thought it was very rude to the speakers and she felt embarrassed for her school in those moments. This is a comment she made to me after the ceremony, before I had said a word about it.

      Like it or not, there will be times in life that call for, and deserve, a certain amount of decorum. It’s concerning to me that some of these young folks heading out into the world have not learned that yet. To be honest, I would have been livid and extremely disappointed if one of my children had participated in that. And to be blunt, we have tried to “raise them better than that.” We have tried to instill in them manners and respect for others – sadly, this is apparently not the case in all households…….

      That being said, let me be very clear that I, and every other person I have spoken with that found the beach ball party thing to be out of of hand, have no problem with fun and jubilation at the graduation event – my family were certainly shouting out and airhorning along with the best of them when my daughter crossed the stage – but it’s a matter timing. By all means, some beach balls could be a fun addition during breaks between speakers, at the end of the ceremony, etc. – but to be behaving like that, and worse yet having the crowd hoot and holler and boo, while speakers are at the podium, or the chorus is performing, is simply RUDE, in POOR TASTE, and in my opinion REFLECTS BADLY on our school and our community. Graduation is an important day in these students’ lives, and the ceremony deserves to be treated as such. Let’s save the beach party for beach week! 🙂

    • Did you read the same article as the rest of us???

      • Denise Enger says:

        Hi Kim,

        I was responding to Stonebroke’s comment “Just because a few geezers got offended by the beach balls” – sorry for the confusion – seems like the way the comments are grouped has changed – it used to sort of “box” together any responses to a particular comment – looks like the format is a little different now…..

  2. They are young adults trying to have alittle fun. Cant you do anything in this County any more with out some one complaining. Maybe the class of 2012 should make every one think that they are going to the ceremony and not show up at the last minute and see how every one feels about that. I think that I would rather see a beach ball bouncing around than to see no one there.

  3. How about this…If you’d rather throw beach balls than listen to the speakers, why are you even there?

  4. Laura Stevens says:

    Very nice article, Mr. Leonard. I hope a middle ground can be found that suits everyone, if possible.
    I have to say that I graduated about 30 years ago from Herndon HS and we had a few beachballs at our graduation. Of course, there were over 600 in my graduating class and the ceremony was over 3 and a half hours so without the small, silly distraction who knows what might have happened.

    • @Laura – Herndon High, Class of 1975 here. We had 750+ in my graduating class and I think we had beachballs too to pass the time. Better than the year before us that had a streaker (remember that fad?) and started a fire by setting off fireworks at Wolf Trap (before they had the big fire!).
      I think what happened at this graduation is not a big deal, except for the fact that it probably was a bit rude to the speakers and family that wanted to hear. Just be glad that these kids have probably never heard of streaking.

  5. Right or wrong (and I see both sides) beach balls have come out at every graduation for as long as I can remember. And it will continue too. I can understand why a speaker might find this rude, but it shouldn’t be taken personally.

    I think it’s a great idea for seniors to HELP decide what their graduation consists of…but graduation isn’t just for the seniors. It’s for the family and friends of these seniors are well and they deserve to see a classic ceremony, like what currently is done. It could certainly be modernized, but giving complete power to the seniors is a receipe for disaster I believe.

    • Clarke Co Supporter says:

      I was at the graduation ceremony for James Wood High School on Friday evening, and there was not one beach ball all evening (and it was a two hour ceremony with 311 graduating seniors). I think if you can’t show respect, then stay home and wait for your diploma to come in the mail.

  6. Wine Taster says:

    Anyone caught participating in beach ball shenanigans should be expelled for the remainder of the school year!

    • You might want to rethink what you posted. Just to help you out, if the seniors are at graduation then I think that their school year is over. I may be wrong but I know a couple of the seniors that graduated this year and they didnt go back to school. So explain to me how they will be expelled.

  7. Stonebroke says:

    How about this…..everyone is stating that it is the graduates day, so let them choose. They did, they chose the beach balls! So let it be!

  8. collegegrad says:

    What Mr. Leonard is implying is that we let 17/18 year olds dictate the ceremony of graduation. If we let this age group make executive decisions, we all know what would happen to the world. Graduation is not the time nor place for such actions; it is a formal ceremony that is a school mandated activity. Therefore, the rules should be governed by those in charge. Even as an observer this has to be extremely distracting, so I can imagine being one of the graduates trying to gain something from this while having a beach ball batted around his or her head. Today’s generation needs guidelines more than anything; they have been given so much and don’t know how to function without multi-tasking; they often don’t understand that there are times when they actually have to sit and listen. A college classroom, for example. Or a meeting at the office. And there are times when they can let loose. Graduation isn’t one of those.

    From Edward Leonard: Actually I’m implying something a little different. Unless CCPS or the School Board passed out the beach balls (an unlikely circumstance), the “17/18 year olds” are already “dictating the ceremony of graduation.” As a certified “old geezer” I believe that inviting a guest commencement speaker to our community and then ignoring the person when it comes time to politely hear what they have to say reflects badly on our community. As a member of “our community” that bugs me. My observation is that many of the graduates question the necessity of a formal graduation ceremony to begin with and the beach ball behavior is a way of demonstrating their dislike for having to sit through a hot and boring afternoon. What I am implying is that it is time for the generations to agree on the ground rules for what the graduation ceremony should be. It seems to me that including the “kids” in that discussion is the only way to reach an agreement that will satisfy everyone. Of course, we can also just continue to ignore the issue, afterall, it only comes up once a year. Just sayin’ …

  9. Of course there is a compromise, and it’s pretty simple. The graduates should respect the speakers and the audience should respect the graduates’ desire to celebrate their commencement. The reality is that this must be TAUGHT to the youngsters by admin and instructors.

    If some of you actually could have heard how the principal addressed the seniors prior to the ceremony you would understand why these kids crossed the line.

    • Fly on the wall says:

      How about parents reminding their kids of proper etiquette and behavior expectations? Why must it only fall to “admin and instructors”?

  10. bobs sports store says:

    We will no longer be selling beach balls at our downtown location. Sorry folks.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Whether anyone likes it or not, beachballs will still be a part of graduation. People should just get over it, and you can’t expell a student after they have graduated…clearly. No one is going to sto students, it is a part of their celebration. I for one also did it my graduation day. HOORAH TO BEACHBALLS!

  12. The beach balls were a bit of a distraction made more so by the reactions of the crowd, but to me the bigger issue was the air horns. A quick blast for your graduate is one thing, but when it interferes with hearing the next students names it’s downright rude. Many of us are only there to here that one special graduates name being called. Thankfully we were able to hear our student’s name, but I noticed some of the horns went on for so long at least 2 or 3 of the next student’s names couldn’t be heard.

    Why would the grads show respect to the speakers when the adults in their families won’t show respect to others?

  13. Mary Veilleux says:

    Thanks, Ed, for acknowledging a pattern of graduation behavior at CCHS that reflects the decline of social decorum in society as a whole. Graduation is a public event, recognizing the achievements of graduates with a series of speeches that are appropriately solemn and congratulatory in nature. I appreciate the efforts of Mr. Kidrick and Coach Childs and others to help keep the circus-like activities to a minimum.
    I think of the ancient words of King Solomon are pertinent for today and in any age:
    There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven-…. a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak…”

  14. Stonebroke says:

    Maybe we need to post this at the gate next year or in the program:

    • anonymous 2 says:




      • Why are you shouting?

        All readers should take a moment to compare the story of Clarke’s graduation to the write-up of Handley’s ceremony in the local print media. There is a place for both decorum and merriment.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Politeness and respect are not little things. That is what this community doesn’t understand.

        • anonymous 2 says:

          I agree but open a door for someone help then across the street be there for a friend these kids do that have seen alot of respect and politeness from them….you are putting them down for one occasion. and was not yelling had caps lock on..

  15. Interested Teacher says:

    Seeing as it is the Senior’s day (not singular, but plural) maybe it shoud be decided by them. But then I do not think it should be expected that anyone should be required to attend. The same thing holds true for the “dirty dancing” at prom. Just because everyone else has and is doing it, it does not make it the ritght or proper thing to do. Some common sense and an understanding of the purpose of a graduation ceremony should also play into this.

  16. Interested Teacher wrote: Senior’s day (not singular, but plural)

    Well then it should be punctuated correctly – Seniors’ day.

    Technically commencement is a beginning; a start. As far as it being solely for the graduates, not so much. Once upon a time this was read at every Clarke graduation. It has considerable meaning in this “beach ball” world.

    The Legend of the Cap and Gown

    The tradition of the cap and gown started in ancient Greece in a time when only the wealthy or determined attended school. One wise old teacher was approached by a nobleman who said, “Now that our sons and daughters have completed their schooling, you are instructed to present them at a great banquet to be held in their honor. Be sure they are appropriately dressed in their finest robes and jewels.”

    On the day of the banquet, however, the teacher, much to the surprise and indignation of the nobleman, presented his students, not in fine robes, but in simple sackcloth garments, such as those of a common workman, and each student carried a mortarboard.

    “What is the meaning of this?” cried the nobleman. “Our sons and daughters were to be dressed in their finest garments!” The wise teacher replied, “But they are! They are dressed in the Golden Robe of Knowledge, Jeweled with the Gems of Thought, and from their eyes shines the Light of Understanding.”

    Someone asked why they carried mortarboards. He replied, “These young men and women are the masons of the future. Whether they build empires or cities, or fountains of wisdom, they will be building on the firm foundation of knowledge.”

    And to this day, all graduates wear a cap and gown proudly, symbolizing the value of education, and the fact that they are builders of their future, and the future of all mankind.

  17. RasputinSays says:

    I think the beach balls are a perfect manifestation of the community of people making comments on this site. Some understand decorum and how to be civil and polite while interacting with others and some can’t understand why they can’t do or say whatever they want.

    It seems that there is not such a great divide separating the generations as some would think.

  18. class of 09 says:

    this beach ball things been going on since and probably before my brother graduated in 05….my sisters class did it in 07, and mine did it in 2009. just gotta say that it doesnt represent a generations decline….to me at least. long live the beach balls!

    • It’s not generational, 09. The questionable behavior is borne by the school, the school system, and the county as a whole. The beach balls are only a small example of the perception shared by many that CCHS has lost its way.

      There is a popular saying that had its genesis in Clarke athletics: Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm. Further, discipline is taught, and hopefully learned, and those lessons will benefit you for a lifetime. Punishment is not necessary when discipline is present. Being respectful of others and choosing the proper time to exhibit the joy that the graduates have earned and deserve is an exercise in discipline.

  19. Mary Veilleux says:

    “No amount of contrary evidence seems to change man’s grand opinion of himself.”

    Reinhold Neibuhr, American thoelogian and commentator on public affairs (d. 1971)

  20. slantedtotheright says:

    handley graduates had enough sense and courtesy to wait until the end of the ceremony to play ball. There is still hope in the young.

  21. respectful says:

    My wife is a HS teacher in Loudoun. After years of problems, about 10 years ago her school’s principal literally ordered a shake down of the kids before entering the graduation area. Male teachers shake down the men, female teacher does the ladies. Nothing is allowed. Not even cell phones. They have found stuff in undergarments, in hats, in cleavage, privates, you name it. The teachers hold several beach balls and when the appropriate time is there, they start the volly to the graduates. They love it and at that time it is appropriate. There is a time and a place for everything. Be respectful to the parents, speakers, families, administration, teachers. To me, it is not only about the graduates.

  22. Daniel Barley says:

    I typically avoid leaping into these frays, preferring to simply watch with amusement, but in this case I’ll dip my feet in.

    First of all, I think the first issue to be taken is the insistence on defining the graduates as “adults”. If indeed such a term can be applied to them at all, it ought to be applied very loosely. These students are still, for all practical purposes, kids; they are by no means emotionally or mentally prepared (most of them) for the rigors of real life. I include myself in this. Are they purely children? Probably not, but in my opinion very few people by the age of eighteen can lay claim to the maturity necessary to operate in the real adult world. We give them many privileges but let us not mistake privilege for adulthood.

    In any event, if these kids are bound and determined to insist that the status of “adult” be conferred upon them, then along with the privileges and rights associated with said status also come certain expectations. If they’re going to be called adults, they should be expected to behave like adults. I don’t care what generation or country you come from, respect is something that should be exercised regardless of situation. I was one of the graduates at the ceremony, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Logan and Chris and Katie and the speaker, all of whom were completely and utterly ignored and overmatched by flying beach balls and our esteemed “adults” hopping around and shouting, “I’m open! Throw it to me!” Then, of course, our actual adults in the stands cheered and booed almost as loudly when the staff took them away.

    The school did no better than the students. They gave validity and humor value to the beach party by simply taking away the balls. It became a game: don’t let ‘em get the ball! Don’t let ‘em take it! By doing what they did the school effectively participated in the behavior and encouraged it. They should have done one of two things: they could have ignored it, in which case the students inevitably would have gotten bored and stopped when nothing came of it, or they should have acted swiftly and decisively and removed from the assembly the first instigators of the ball-tossing. They did neither and hence are almost equally culpable.

    I’m hardly close to any of the speakers and hold little affection for the leadership of the school, but really, respect people who are talking. This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with some great eternal struggle between the “old people” and the “young people”. This is just a matter of manners, plain and simple. I don’t take issue in principle with throwing beach balls around and have no problem with having fun, but why couldn’t they have just done it while names were being called or during transitions between speakers? At the very least they could have simply quietly beaten the ball around rather than shouting and jumping. If they really just had to do it at all, there were points during the ceremony when it might have been more appropriate.

    • I agree. Next year, tell the graduates that the beach balls, etc. may only come out during the portion of the ceremony when the diplomas are handed out. Those that violate that policy will be escorted out and will not be allowed to conitinue with the ceremony. Period.

  23. hoopsfan says:

    Beach balls were minor… whos little rug rats were under the bleachers throwing rocks at the steel beam that supports the bleachers… all i could hear was dong…ding… dong,,, @#$%@#$^#$%@#$