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?
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.