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?!