Signs and no asterisks

I had my first sighting this morning while walking the dog. On the lawn just down the street were a couple of signs celebrating that there were two graduates living there from St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School.

I suspect that, if I’m out and about, I’ll see either today or sooner signs from General Amherst High School, Western Secondary School, and Sandwich Secondary School. The four of these schools handle the largest share of secondary school education.

In a normal school year, these would be but one celebration for the end of the school year. It would be followed by the prom, sweating out final examinations in the gyms, and parties galore.

Of course, there would also be a formal graduation ceremony. During my first years of teaching, we’d do it outside on the school parking lot. Our graduates would be in gowns (Orange and Royal Blue as the school colours) and we staff wore black gowns with our university or college hoods. It was one of the times that I really appreciated not getting my doctorate – those hats just looked absolutely hot in the very hot and humid Essex County spring. The staff would arm wrestle to get a bit in the shade as the sun set. As Business Education Director, that was no option for me; the Technical Education Director and myself were part of the stage party. I was so happy that common sense eventually kicked in and an air conditioned festival hall was eventually chosen as the location for the event.

We recognize the years of hard work that the students had put in to get to this point. Their next steps were off to the world of work, college, or university. It really was a wonderful celebratory time and all the students seemed to be proud of their school and their own personal accomplishments at least at that moment in time. There was that symbolic moment when they would move that orange tassel from side to the other to signify that they had completed all the hurdles that the education system had thrown at them. When I graduated secondary school, we didn’t have that ritual so it was foreign to me. Fortunately, we had a staff member who did a check before each graduate crossed the stage to make sure that everything was correct.

In a normal school year, those lawn signs would also be out to celebrate.

As Jaimie and I walked past the ones down the street, we were struck by two things:

  • at this time, as with last year, this is as good as formal celebrations are going to get. There might be an attempt to zoom something formal but I think we all know how hard it has become to pay attention to that little screen for prolonged periods of time
  • the other thing is perhaps a bit more subtle but there’s no asterisk on those lawn signs to indicate that this graduation is any different from any other one. Jaimie and I think that’s really important although we know that things certainly are different. We also hope that those who head to college or university are welcomed by institutions that recognize this as well
  • on the positive side, this may well be the first or second cohort entering the world of work or higher education with advanced computer skills

It’s the lack of an asterisk that I think takes on additional special meaning at this time. Normally, graduation denotes the successful completion of academics. We couldn’t help but think that this year it’s meant so much more. Academics have so many hurdles to jump over. You can’t help but think that the lack of face to face classrooms and resources coupled with the failure of meeting technology to provide an equivalent experience has thrown additional hurdles at this year’s graduating class. So many kudos have to be given to them for sticking to things and making it to this point.

I also can’t help but think that my experience could be welcomed at this time. We didn’t graduate in the spring of the year. Instead, our commencement was held towards the end of the following September. In addition to getting our diplomas, it was a chance to meet up with old friends who had gone off in different directions at least for one night and the weekend following. I appreciated it then and I certainly appreciate it now.

Every secondary school graduation is special. You can’t deny that. This year, perhaps even more special, as students certainly celebrate their academic achievements but more they met additional challenges and hung in there to overcome them as well.

No asterisk required.

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