Each May millions of young Americans graduate with high school diplomas or college degrees. Their commencement ceremonies are part of a nationwide celebration of academic performance, of goals met, of unique abilities and special accomplishments.
I really like this time of year, and I enthusiastically congratulate recent graduates. As Americans we should recognize these young adults, honor their achievements and encourage them to pursue their life’s work with passion.
I also enjoy skimming through the commencement addresses that have received national attention – like actor Hank Azaria’s address at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, where he employed the voice characters he uses on The Simpsons to deliver some words of wisdom. In his “comic book guy” voice, Azaria deadpanned: “Life is like the Star Wars movies. Some of it is great. Some of it sucks. But you have no choice but to sit through all of it.”
I also appreciated entertainer Harry Connick Jr.’s address to graduates at Loyola University in his native New Orleans, where he received an honorary doctorate of music degree. Connick shared, “If you work and pay attention to the smallest details of your work, your relationships, your faith, you’ll find that over time you will have created a lot of great things — things of worth, things of substance and quality.”
And, if you haven’t watched the presentation from Donovan Livingston, the master’s candidate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it is incredibly impressive. Livingston’s original spoken word poetry included: “I belong among the stars. And so do you. And so do they. Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness for generations to come. No, sky is not the limit It is only the beginning. Lift off.”
Entertaining. Inspiring. Moving. Commencement is a collective celebration of the best and the brightest young people in our nation on what is a joyous occasion for all involved.
Now consider this: Have you ever been at a graduation ceremony when a student was given special recognition for his or her work ethic, achievements and sheer brilliance? When the presenting faculty member or administrator read the list of accomplishments by that particular student, do you remember the vibe in the audience? Did you have a sense of the feelings among that student’s colleagues and fellow graduates?
Was it jealousy? Were students dejected that they didn’t accomplish more? Or was the general consensus, “Holy COW! That kid is unbelievable!”?
In all of the graduation ceremonies that I’ve attended, I have never experienced one where there was resentment for the students who received special recognition. In fact, it’s just the opposite…those are the students who receive the honest, heartfelt admiration and applause from their peers – and deservedly so.
So…what in the wide world of Texas is going on with Plano Senior High School? How can a state whose informal, adopted slogan is a proud “Don’t Mess With Texas,” contain a high school that can be so wimpy about recognizing the hard work, commitment and academic achievement of its graduates?
If you haven’t heard the story yet, Plano Senior High School refuses to recognize its National Honor Society students. It prohibits them from wearing a National Honor Society-embroidered stole with their graduation robes. The reason, of course, is because it is not inclusive of all students.
According to a report by the ABC-TV affiliate, WFAA in Dallas, a National Honor Society sponsor told a parent that administrators from Plano Senior High School do not want to single any students out. In short, the administrators don’t want to upset the kids who didn’t make it into the school’s National Honor Society.
Really? Refusing to celebrate the perseverance, skills and successes of one individual because another didn’t accomplish the same thing?
It might…potentially…hurt someone else’s feelings.
I did a quick Google search to make sure that Plano still resides in the state of Texas. You know, Texas? The state where Davy Crockett, William Travis and Jim Bowie held the Alamo for 13 days with about 250 Texans against General Santa Ana’s 2400 soldiers.
I mean, TEXAS, for crying out loud.
Isn’t the net result of the Plano Senior High policy to not encourage the achievers to do more… while preventing the other students from witnessing the accomplishments of their peers…and robbing them of an opportunity to be inspired or motivated to do more and better things in the future?
And maybe even worse, the school said in a statement that its longstanding practice of not allowing “any regalia for various student clubs, honor societies, leadership roles or other activities” was explained to students on two separate occasions, and “the student leaders opted to uphold the tradition.”
So…the school administrators left it up to the student leaders to make the call on whether or not these National Honor Society students, should receive the recognition for their accomplishments. This might seem like a stretch to the school administrators, but could it be possible that these high school kids didn’t want to be viewed as self-serving? Aren’t student leaders, who are likely to be National Honor Society members, more likely to want to deflect attention away from themselves…and “opt” to not be viewed as attention-seeking narcissists by their fellow students? Could it be that that is why they “opted to uphold” the tradition of not calling attention to those who are more studious and more involved in school and community activities?
Where is the leadership?
School administrators have a responsibility to educate kids and help inspire them to become great at whatever their life’s work will be. They have a responsibility to recognize and encourage the things that the school’s NHS members do.
Hard work, perseverance, serving the community, sacrifice to reach a goal is good.
Sitting on your butt, complacency, not having a vision to better yourself is bad.
Yes, it is that simple.
At a time when our country should be recognizing the rich talent and the persistence of so many gifted young people, the well-meaning folks at Plano Senior High are telling students to “look away from what was accomplished by your fellow graduates, classmates who put forth more effort and achieved more than you did.”
Because it might hurt your feelings.
I can’t think of a worse way to celebrate commencement.