Celebrating Mediocrity

Bob Parr: It’s not a graduation. He’s moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade.

Helen Parr: It’s a ceremony.

Bob Parr: It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.

I would like to congratulate all of those 8th graders who have made it this far in school. I remember when graduating from high school was quite literally the biggest deal of your school career. As a mom for 25 years, today I was able to witness yet another school-endorsed milestone before that long-anticipated, well-deserved high school graduation.  I’d like to say that today I sat through the last of 4 middle school graduations, but I’m pretty sure it was just child #4. We are two years into a new district and I don’t think our old district did this, but I could be mistaken. I know I’ve I sat through 4 preschool graduations and maybe 4 moving on day ceremonies when my 4th graders moved to 5th grade and then again when my 6th graders moved to 7th grade and quite frankly, was inspired by this last one enough to write about it.

My kids do well academically, but celebrating moving from one grade to another, and in our case, one building to another, a building that is literally connected and on the same campus, has me scratching my head. I guess they are graduating from walking out of one door, down the sidewalk and into another door? Or perhaps I’ve just been hanging around the school system too long, 22 years if you count preschool, and am just tired of the over emphasis on events that really aren’t that awe-inspiring. We now celebrate things that in the past were simply expected by our parents with no need for recognition until high school graduation.

I was that mom who back in the mid-90’s followed child #1’s school bus on the first day of kindergarten because I was sure the bus driver was going to get lost on the way to school. But by child number 4, had become that mom who counted down the days of summer vacation with restrained jubilee and showed up to school for events with sidewalk chalk and cookie dough stuck to my clothes, trying to remember if I had taken a shower or even combed my hair that day.

So kudos to those kids moving from middle school to high school. Did this warrant a mini graduation-like ceremony? My own 8th grader didn’t seem to think so. She warned me it was going to be long and boring and I’m pretty sure she would have preferred to have her fun field day activities that she excitedly talked about the day before as her last day of school instead.

The ceremony started at 9. I arrived at 8:40 thinking I’m way too early only to find that the school had multiple parking attendants directing traffic in a rural district that has less than half of the kids that were in our former suburban district. I am directed to park on the lawn. When I enter the auditorium it immediately became clear that there was no restriction on number of guests. I guess lots of parents arrived as the sun was making it’s appearance to reserve rows of seats for their extended family members and friends for this auspicious occasion. So after being rebuffed when asking if one measly seat was taken, I located a folding chair in an overflow makeshift row in the back of the room, thinking it was a good thing it was just me who came.

The kids were asked to dress up for the occasion and there were very clear instructions sent home for the young ladies to keep their shoulders covered. So my rule-follower daughter, who is always modest, wears a thin-strapped dress with a nice sweater over top.  The music starts and the kids start coming in looking thrilled (NOT) and I notice that most of the girls must not have received that same notice of dress instruction as evidenced by the bare shoulders AND open-backed, very adult looking dresses coming down the aisle. It appears that the problem with authority and obeying rules starts young.

I sat through the recognition of those who maintained the highest GPA.  Usually this is where you make a mental note that come high school graduation these names are going to appear again as valedictorian and salutatorian, right? Well, I couldn’t keep track of all the names that were read because they recognized everyone who maintained the highest GPA all quarters while they were in grade 6 (multiple teams), while in grade 7 (multiple teams) and while in grade 8 (multiple teams). Now I’m smacking myself in the head.  How about recognizing those two or three kids who maintained the highest GPA from grades 6-8 combined? Perhaps I shouldn’t have said to the lady sitting next to me a few minutes earlier that I wasn’t sure how I felt about these ceremonies only to find out that her daughter was one of those recognized for the highest GPA every one of those middle school years.

It’s as if they tried to include as many students as possible, but instead kept reading a lot of the same names over and over and it became so that the clapping was noticeably diminished by the time they read the names for the last quarter of the last team of the last year. It just makes it less special.

I watched the school’s head and vice principal, the superintendent and the guidance counselors sitting on stage and wondered if they recall their middle school years and what they think about all of this hullabaloo … the parents and grandparents coming in with bouquets of flowers, the high powered cameras to capture the “moment”, the parents blocking views and tripping over one another to get videos, the speeches, etc.  I have estimated that by the time child number 4 graduates I will have sat through over 250 band concerts alone … just band concerts, not steel band concerts, not guest artist concerts … just band.  This does not include award ceremonies, moving on day ceremonies, dinners, swim meets, track meets, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if that number exceeds 400 by the time number 4 walks across the high school stage!

My kids struggle with so many of the things that most kids struggle with at these different stages, but they are grounded and well-rounded. They do well in school, they play sports, they play musical instruments, they sing, they teach, they create, they volunteer, they work.  I like to think they became how they are because my husband and I love them unconditionally (and if you don’t yet have middle schoolers or high schoolers  … wait, your patience will be tested and you will quickly and painfully learn the meaning of unconditional). Those toddler and early school years are but a distant memory of a wonderful, magical time. I am reminded and convicted daily of my failures as a parent, but my kids love and have parents who love the Lord and who teach them what’s really important in life … relationships, not awards (of which they have received plenty), not stuff (also recipients of much).

So today I am most thankful because the last of my children survived the drama, chaos, mean-spiritedness, traumatic, clique-ridden world of middle school, mildly bruised, but basically unscathed. I congratulate my daughter, not with flowers, adoration or accolades, but because she persevered, passed the 8th grade and now has the privilege of continuing her education.

Love you to the moon and back Abby!

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