# # I Never Graduated ...

Brother, I Can See Your Skull.

Brother, I Can See Your Skull. - The Coreyshead Blog

I Never Graduated …

I Never Graduated Kindergarten

I never graduated from preschool. I never graduated from kindergarten. I didn’t graduate from any of the elementary school grades.

Back when and where I went to school, after your sixth grade year, you attended “junior high school,” not “middle school.” I made the transition from grade school to junior high but … I didn’t graduate.

My junior high school years spanned 7th through 9th grade. I was not a very good student during those years – a combination of social issues, depression, boredom, and laziness conspired to keep me from trying very hard or seeing much of a future for myself. I was so poor a student that I had to take summer school to make the jump from junior high to high school. Attending and passing summer school didn’t cause me to miss my junior high school graduation ceremony because … there wasn’t one.

The only graduation ceremony in my experience and mind during those years was the one that was to follow my senior year of high school. It remained a goal even for a student such as myself; out there, ahead, shining. Sometimes it seemed so far away as to be unreal but I wanted it. I really did.

And so I did it. I made it: I graduated.

They held our collective ceremony on the school football field. I and all my classmates in black or gold caps and gowns (boys in black, girls in gold; gotta keep that color-coded, sexual segregation hammered in, dontcha know). It was very sunny and hot on that field and I was jealous of my female peers whose gown colors at least deflected some of the beastly radiation.

Our collective supporters filled the stands to our left, their hands crowded with cameras, programs, and hankies for dabbing at tears of pride and something those of us on the field would not come to understand until we ushered our own children off into their lives: bittersweet achievement and loss.

I don’t remember much about that day because I was embarrassed and didn’t feel like I belonged there. I felt like I’d been given a walk. That I’d shown just enough oomph for them to give me a pass: “Get ‘im outta here, folks. He’s not just good, he’s good enough.” My success, combined with an open-eyed awareness of just how little effort I’d put in to achieve it, did little to strengthen my faith in the system I had lobbied, through my efforts, to become a part of.

I sat near a few friends, and that helped, but, as I soaked up the sun and my gown soaked up my sweat and my ears refused to soak up the cliched benedictions and platitudes spewed over us, my sense of alienation grew.

I didn’t understand or relate to the bulk of the people around me, in the stands, or up on that stage. I hadn’t been to a prom. I didn’t have a girlfriend. I wasn’t invited to the senior kegger. I had no plans for college. I wasn’t joining the military. I didn’t have, nor had I ever had, school spirit. I’d never watched a team sporting event in its entirety – neither for a school team, nor on television. Most of the happiest people around me, those who really shone and were celebrating the moment, were the ones I knew most capable of social cruelty and repugnant ignorance. I didn’t like the culture of “The Class of ‘86” that I was part of. I didn’t like the culture of America’s workforce/consumers that I was joining. I felt oppressed and ridiculed by the Christian content of the ceremony I was forced to listen to and knew it was just a precursor of what was to come as I stepped out into the world.

Yet, even with my sense of not belonging, even with my sense of having walked through what should have been an arduous testing process, I qualified for and attended my high school graduation ceremony and was happy to be allowed to. To celebrate what I’d worked towards in my own, peculiar, half-assed way, because it was a measurable achievement. Something real. A fruit of labor that, despite my spite for the institution and culture that bestowed it upon me, freed me in many ways to move forward in our society as I chose. Even though I knew it was only plastic painted to look like brass, I wanted to reach out and grab that ring. And so I did.

But I wonder.

Would graduating high school have meant less to me if I’d also graduated from preschool? If I’d graduated preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, and junior high, would graduating high school have been just another, silly, dress-up day? A day more for my parents than for me? Just another indication of how shallow, hollow, and intellectually bankrupt our culture is? Ask a modern high school student and there’s a good chance you’ll hear: “yes.” I know I have.

Many don’t attend their high school graduation ceremonies because, by the time it rolls around, after so many others – graduation ceremonies that, like an elementary school valentine, virtually everyone gets – such functions become a non-event. The real value of graduating out of the public school system and into your career, further education, the military, or busking for change in front of the local five and dime, is lost in the face of repetition and a wall of smart phones taking your portrait yet again. The kids learn soon enough who these ceremonies are really for and they feel tired of being used as a prop for mommy or daddy’s Facebook page – “look at what an awesome parent I am!” – this notwithstanding the fact that, could one enroll a lump of semi-congealed elk fat in a preschool program, it would make it through with flying colors to the “graduation” ceremony, perhaps even as valedictorian.

The flip-side may be worse. At least those who find the endless ceremonies pressed upon them ridiculous are paying attention. The children who enjoy them will grow up expecting pomp and circumstance for every minor achievement. The need for constant, overblown back-patting leads not to people who feel accomplished but rather those who believe their smallest victory – doing the dishes, for example – deserves major celebration. It is not the pride in accomplishment they learn to recognize but rather the flash of the camera recording their every move. This need for the full, excited attention of everyone in their world at the slightest step forward leads to a life of disappointed resentment when the world fails to comply.

This is not to knock the urge to celebrate doing well enough to pass on to the next level of *anything,* regardless of age or system. I do believe that these achievements, especially for children, should be recognized but in scale with both the accomplishment and the end goal. A small, private, congratulatory celebration is often more in line with the level of achievement we now see being feted with cap, gown, document, and fawning parental crowd.

Giving children numerous graduation ceremonies throughout their school career diminishes the two that really count: high school and college. What we’re diminishing is the value of a very important thing: the move from helpless, immature dependent to active, productive member of society. It’s a big step and one that we need the majority of our children to realize, in all senses of the word, in order for our culture to grow and flourish. Is this really something we want to downplay via banal repetition? In our already decaying culture, can we afford to remove the value from real achievements for the simple sake of pride? Where will that leave us?

I am afraid we’ll soon know …

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