Monday, June 9, 2008

8th Grade Graduations! What?

What does a commencement speaker talk about at an 8th grade graduation? What kind of a party do you throw?  Why would one even celebrate 8th grade "graduation".  .  .  ?

Those are all questions I keep asking myself (and have for a few years) as I attend graduations in the city.  Today I attended a graduation service at a nearby elementary school.  

The speaker was a motivational speaker who followed a young graduate who prayed his prayer to Jesus in no sheepish way.  (To that point in the service the audience had been surprisingly quiet, but when he say " in JESUS name. . .  Amen" the crowd came alive. 

So about 50 students, approximately the same number of girls and boys, dressed "to the 9's" in new suits (mostly white).  The shoes were classy high heels with fancy tie-backs or classic looking baby blue -- or orange with white stripes.  Corsages, graduation caps and gowns. . .  all the works.  The picked up their diplomas, they threw their hats. .  . 

The commencement speaker's topics:  Boys, you are not a statistic. . . Girls, you are queens.  The audience was charged to stay in the life of the kids and cover them with prayer.  Through God all things are possible.  You can stay away from trouble.  You can stay away from incarceration.  You can go to high school and make your dreams come true.  You can stay away from teen pregnancy.  The school, the family and the church must be active in your life.  You can embrace your heritage (African American) and know that God has blessed you and made you strong.    You won't be able to go to school in your neighborhood now, you'll have to ride buses and trains but you can do it. .  .  

The drop out rate in Chicago among African American boys is 57%.  The rate of unemployment is at least 4 times as high for a drop out as a college grad. . . and that doesn't even consider the type of employment open to a college grade vs. a drop out.  

I have very mixed feelings about this type of service.  It embraces the youth and congratulates them for making it through 8th grade. . . that is terrific.  The speaker was also able to (amazingly) speak freely about faith, the church and Jesus.  

Then again how sad is it that many if not most of these youth won't make it to the next graduation?  How sad is it that incarceration and teen pregnancy are so likely that they warrant discussion at an 8th grade graduation?!  


KG said...

I have often been frustrated by celebrating minor accomplishments. Have you ever been to a kindergarten "graduation"? Come on now. Does someone really think this is accomplishing something? I have told my children not to expect much at 8th grade graduation.
I believe when you treat something like it is a huge deal then young people believe it. I too have seen elaborate amounts of money spent on clothes, balloons, gifts, flowers, and sometimes even a limo for 8TH GRADE graduation.

The kids then believe. I made it. This was great. Maybe I can be done with school now.

I feel that this pattern often encourages low expectations.

Maybe I am wrong, but it seems to play out that way.

hammerdad said...


"The kids then believe. I made it"

Wow, so true. I agree that the underlying thing bugging me was exactly this sense of low expectations and "let's be realisitic, we might not make it further. . ."

We had some friends from the suburbs over last night and I asked about the 8th grade graduation thing. they said the do it there too so I guess we shouldn't read too much into it.

But it's parallel to a couple other uses of language I find the the neighborhood that stick with me. One is referring to how old someone is by saying "they just made 8" or something like that. I first noticed it in Cabrini and had the real sense that it implies they might not make it to 9. . .

The other is the phrase "I stay on 55th" as opposed to I live on 55th. . . it seems to imply a transitory nature of what home is.

Each of these may simply be cultural conventions that are part of crossing out of one's culture but they all seem to have this sense of understanding that this might be all there is.

Is that crazy?

Anonymous said...

As I read this post I was thinking what's the big deal? I graduated from 8th grade since Calvin Christian School did 8th grade graduations for years. (I am not sure if they still do them because they have expanded into high school grades now too.) But I guess I can see in your situation how that might seem like it's telling the kids that they don't have to try anymore or go on to high school.


E. Peevie said...

Another problem with having graduation ceremonies for lower grades is that it minimizes the true accomplishment of a high school or college graduation.

I wonder how widespread the practice of 8th grade graduation is. I grew up near Philadelphia (in the ice age), and we didn't have graduation until HS. But things could be different now.

KG said...

Although I don't understand it's purpose, I don't mind the 8th grade graduation as much as I am bothered by a big deal being made out of it. Parties, balloons, expensive outfits, flowers, limos. That is the thing that is very bothersome to me. It is treated as if it is something special instead of the norm.

It is sort of like the trend to give all kids trophies now a days for participation instead of just rewarding the winners.
We seem to be a culture that celebrates mediocrity.(sp?)

hammerdad said...

yeah. . . I don't mind the idea either. . . just the "level" of it all. . . I attended my 4 and 5 year old's "move up ceremony" this week and remembered the long lost art of all school assemblies. . . hadn't attended one in 20+ years. It seems like an upgraded all school assembly would be closer to what is needed. . . that would leave it distinct from HS graduation in ways the present system doesn't.

But, I did notice pictures of 8th grade graduates in cap and gown going back to 1982 in the hallway so it must not be new. . .

Barack Obama said...

You know, sometimes I‚ll go to an eighth-grade graduation and there‚s all that pomp and circumstance and gowns and flowers. And I think to myself, it‚s just eighth grade. To really compete, they need to graduate high school, and then they need to graduate college, and they probably need a graduate degree too. An eighth-grade education doesn‚t cut it today. Let‚s give them a handshake and tell them to get their butts back in the library!

(from speech at Apostolic -- next door to Corban and Caden's school)

Anonymous said...

The District I was in had 9th graders at the Jr. Highs and then moved us up to High School for 10th Grade. This was circa 1987. We had a 9th grad lock in party at the School, but not a formal graduation ceremony.

What I find interesting is the difference in how this is seen between a poor and a middle class community. What can rightly be seen as lowering of expectations in a poor community. That same thing happens in a "suburban" community and I would put up to Helicopter parents. They just got to make every normal accomplishment into something so HUGE.

Eric (Brenda's Husband)

Anonymous said...

Here is a story from the LA Times abou this issue.,0,2747979.story


JudyBright said...

Each of these may simply be cultural conventions that are part of crossing out of one's culture but they all seem to have this sense of understanding that this might be all there is.

Is that crazy?

I don't think so. I get the same impression anyway for what it's worth. One of the things that left the biggest impression on me when I taught at an inner city high school was the underlying assumption that right now was all that mattered. Teenagers of any culture tend to be impulsive, but I was struck by how many kids didn't even consider how their decisions and actions would affect the future, and by future I mean even tomorrow or an hour from now, let alone next year or their adult lives. It was sort of this underlying hopelessness or lowered expectations for their lives that was the most discouraging.

We seem to be a culture that celebrates mediocrity.(sp?)

LOL. "Mediocrity" is spelled correctly, btw.