My graduation picture in 2015 from George Mason University, BA
When I hit the “submit” button on my last college essay, happiness filled my spirit. After four years of tears, sweat, triumphs and pitfalls, I had finally finished. However, the finality didn’t hit me until I put on my cap and gown, adorned myself with my Kente and assorted stoles, and walked across the stage. It was, by far, the happiest moment of my life.
For decades, walking across a stage donned in a cap and gown has been the end goal for students at various stages in their educational career. While technically, once one finishes school, they don’t necessarily need to walk across the stage to prove that they completed school, many still consider it a rite of passage.
For many parents, graduating is a milestone marker. However, for minority parents, it means something entirely different. It’s not only a rite of passage; it’s a celebration of life. Too often young students of color don’t get to reach the achievement of walking along the stage for a long list of reasons that are out of their control. There is more struggle for us to reach that short 10-second walk but it’s a walk that many parents dream about and keep themselves up late at night thinking about.
This year, in order to slow the spread of coronavirus, many school districts and universities opted not to hold graduation ceremonies for the graduating class of 2020. Some schools are having virtual graduation ceremonies via Zoom, while others are pushing their graduation ceremonies back to a later date, but many are forgoing ceremonies entirely.
This has caused heartache for many students as well as families because they won’t get to see their children reach that milestone. That dream students have of having their parents shout at the top of their lungs, hold up large face cut-outs, and getting embarrassed as their family competes to be the loudest voices in the auditorium.
In addition, parents are robbed of the opportunity to have relatives fight over tickets and practice sessions of their jubilation outcries. This is what people are missing. This has been part of the dream. And now, like so many parents have feared, their dreams are now having to be altered.
With all of this in mind, how we recover from this loss of celebration may have long-standing impacts on student graduation rates for possibly generations. This begs the question, what lies ahead for generations to come?
Pomp No Matter the Circumstances
For many students, high school graduation is the first big milestone in their educational careers. But since many graduating students aren’t getting a ceremony this year, their first big milestone has now come to a halt. Students in high school will now have to wait until college or trade school graduation until they are formally recognized. But at that point–will it even matter? Will we just forgo this tradition entirely? And if so, what will replace it?
Started From the Bottom…. Now We Here?
A graduation ceremony isn’t mandatory, however, they still have symbolic meaning. If graduation ceremonies become a thing of the past, will people feel less inclined to work toward graduation? Or, will it alleviate pressure, thus allowing students to relax and shift their energy toward completing their schoolwork, as opposed to the goal of wearing a cap and gown? That’s a question that no one will be able to answer right now, but it’s something that we must keep in the back of our minds.
I’m on BET With No GED
As COVID-19 has forced students to study and attend classes from home, many are finding that they are able to complete their schoolwork without having to physically be in a classroom. Does this mean that more people will choose to work while completing school on their own time? Perhaps will they seek GED programs or online classes in order to fulfill graduation requirements? GED as a source of high school achievement was the main subject matter of my favorite Paul Tough book, “How Children Succeed.” In this book, he argues that high school is supposed to teach us the soft-skills that are mandatory for children to succeed in life. It’s an argument that we must continue to keep in mind as we continue throughout this COVID-19 crisis.
Before I Go, I Just Wanna Say…
No matter what, we should be celebrating our young kings and queens for this monumental step. No matter how far they had to overcome or bounds they had to leap, they did that. Congratulate anyone in your life who is a part of the Class of 2020. Celebrate them. Shout them out. Don’t let their accomplishments just pass on by. They should be recognized for their achievements just like everyone else. So keep cheering them on and holding their head up high. These graduates and the future graduates are looking to see how we react when the stage, caps, gowns, and tickets are taken away and all we have is the achievement itself.