I was walking by a Wheat Ridge park next to Clear Creek when a couple of cars arrived bringing two school graduating students and their families for some picture-taking. These reminded me that there will be no graduation ceremony for the charter school system I help lead as a member of its board of directors.
It also reminded me of how important it is for these two graduating students to hold some kind of recognition event that validates a profound change in their lives. This is particularly important to first-in-the-family high school and college graduates that are literally making education history.
Yet, there are no gatherings of families, friends and members of the community to witness and celebrate because doing so in the face of a world pandemic threat would be foolish. The second choice for many is to do it by electronic virtual reality that does not unite body and soul.
The graduation ceremony is a rite of passage that symbolizes the death to a previous life and the birth to a new one. The “turning of the tassel” from right to left at the end of the ceremony is a sacred recognition of this change.
We can imagine how much more meaning there is in the event for the first graduate in a family. For the person and loved ones, the feat has not been done before.
The Latino community knows first-hand of the increased meaning of commencement. Metropolitan State University of Denver, an institution somewhat adopted by Latinos, has made much of being a second opportunity and first to college family institution.
Years ago, my stated goal in my recruitment and service in the United States Air Force was to increase my chances of getting an education. In the service, I found what was for me a rare opportunity to test out of high school and do significant university work.
I returned home to finish my undergraduate education in Colorado. My graduation from college was very significant for both my immediate family and every other relative I knew.
I sensed this and welcomed my parents’ attendance at Commencement. It was a big day for me and every one else because it marked a most important change to the trajectory of my life and all of those in the family that followed.
It is somewhat ironic that, although it was much more important as an accomplishment, graduate school held less of a significance. I did not attend the ceremonies to receive the Masters or Doctorate Degrees.
My most meaningful graduation commencement came to be the first and that was from college because I tested out of high school. Still, in time, I came to understand the importance of the ceremony of every kind as a symbol of profound change and growth.
Meaningful ceremonies are becoming less and less important in a world like ours that is rapidly changing. Yet, they are important sign-posts that help us recognize significant changes in our human condition.
Ceremonies are historical timelines that define the character of an individual, family and community experience. In education, they are the messages concerning intellectual achievement and human motivation to succeed.
In a democracy, ceremonies not only celebrate achievements, but also are part of the building blocks of effective self-government. A free people are composed and led by an educated public.
Let us agree that graduation ceremonies are important to life of America and that their cancellations are an aberration. Honoring our graduates is a new beginning for everyone.