Saturday, June 20, 2009

Time for Celebrations... Commencement

Last night, our 18-year-young son Allen participated in the graduation program for GED graduates at Blue Ridge Community College. While Allen didn't really want to participate because he was nervous about being on stage, he did participate (guess who suggested that he did?). After the commencement exercise was completed, he said he was glad he did.

That's what rituals are about: a physical manifestation of a rite of passage, a stage completed (or entered into), a tangible ceremony around an intangible process. Whether it's a wedding, a graduation, a baptism, or a funeral, ritual helps us acknowledge and better grasp what process has been entered into or what covenant has been made.

And commencement is so well named; it IS the beginning of the rest of these young people's lives. There were 46 graduates (out of over 200 for the past year) who walked the stage. While any form of academic graduation is important, I think this ceremony really was special. All the students who enroll in the GED program have been through some tough times in regular school, and their courage and tenacity to take this step is really something I admire. Allen enrolled and successfully earned his GED in 3 weeks! His instructors said that he was one of the fastest students they've had! And he was labeled a poor student in public school. While I was a public school teacher (decades ago) and I support public schools, the way school funders (government and public alike) consider the lack of value of the school system is obvious in the funding they allocate (or willingly pay via taxes) to the schools. And while throwing money at something doesn't always guarantee improvement or success, it will help. And when our schools have more funding, they can reduce the number of students in each classroom, and give the students the individual attention they need. *sigh* Don't get me started!

So we are really proud of Allen for deciding he was going to earn his GED in record time, and then doing it!

The most impressive part of the ceremony last night, however, wasn't the keynote speaker or the College speakers: it was when three of the class' graduates spoke about their experience and desire to enroll and complete the GED course of study and testing. Those stories brought tears to my eyes. All of them said how much they appreciated the encouragement and support they received from their parents and the course instructors. Two of the graduates are mothers (one of a 2 month old and one of a 5 year old) and being parents also spurred them on to accomplish this goal in order to be a better role model for their children. That's what responsible parents do: they try their best for their children.

I watched all the graduates who walked the stage last night, and felt pride for each of them. I'm sure some of them are the first in their family to graduate from high school. There are over 15,000 adults in our county who do not have their high school diploma. Hard to believe nowadays, but it's true.

I love the bumper sticker: "Think education is expensive? Try ignorance!"

Allen wants to go on to community college, and I hope he does. He has a couple of goals he has set for himself to complete before he enrolls in a program. And his parents will be encouraging and supporting him.

Here's a toast to all of us who have achieved a goal!