This past Friday, I had the honor to participate in the graduation ceremony of the New America Schools composed of three charter high institutions in the Denver area. It was a beautiful day and a nice time given the pandemic and the academic difficulties it created.
There were reasons this past year to close the schools or give up learning altogether. But the students met the challenge and the seniors are graduating and going on with their life plans.
Although I graduated in colleges 3 times, I only attended the first college graduation ceremony because my parents wanted to see me walk and enjoy the accomplishment. I notice the same thing at the New America Schools graduation as mostly Latino parents of mostly Latino graduates came to celebrate.
I also did not attend my high school graduation because I did not graduate. My 10th grade education took me into the United States Air Force where I was able to test out of the last two years of high school and more.
So, I actually missed 3 graduation ceremonies. That made me wonder about the value and meaning of the ceremonies. Among the things I thought about was the seemingly oxymoron concepts of “commencement” put together with “graduation.”
In the beginning, I thought of the two concepts as opposites since graduation signals an end to something and commencement a beginning. However, they do go together.
It is true that the “graduation” is a degree or diploma driven concept that recognizes the accomplishment of academic goals. “Commencement” on the other hand, represents entry into a scholarly world of higher thought.
So the ceremony signifies both an end and a beginning. In language, it also advances the notion of a crossroad divide between popular English and academic English.
Although this means little to graduates immediately going on to a job, it has enormous significance to those going on to higher education, especially Latinos that have kept their knowledge and use of the Spanish language in tact.
The colloquial English used by children growing up begins with a high level of German based words. As they grow older and attend school, their English goes from a German to a Latin based English also known as academic English.
It is in high school that Latin based words catch up with the German based ones. That is why high school graduation is the dividing line between the use of a popular version of English and academic English that is Latin language based and featured in college.
In the absence of an active Latin, Spanish, a Latin based language, is the best companion in learning academic English. It is here that those that conserved Spanish have the advantage.
High school graduates are at the door of a new vision of the world. Language development that goes with continued study creates a gallery of images, symbols and concepts that enriches understanding and personality.
At the graduation last Friday, I was particularly taken with the words of a graduating speaker that talked about her experience with limited English and a Spanish accent and how others made her feel less because of it. The irony is that her speech in English was excellent.
She is going on with her studies and will no doubt do very well. As she reads and studies university level books and essays she will have Spanish as an effective partner.
Graduation and Commencement is a wonderful experience. What comes next for those that persist is even more exciting.