(The following is an e-mail I sent to my son’s grandfather, my dad, explaining why we aren’t making as big a deal as he’d like about his grandson’s graduation, specifically why we’ll be skipping the pre-graduation awards ceremony, and baccalaureate ceremony. Attending Awards Day is mandatory for my son to receive tickets–yes tickets–for the graduation ceremony, but we aren’t attending because he doesn’t want us to. But the grandfather has decided to go anyway. If as you read this it seems that over these last eighteen years I was working for the kid’s grandparents as much as I was working for the kid, well, that’s also about how it felt.)
I thought I should clarify things a bit. It might seem callous, our disregard for the circus of activities directed at recognition and accolades for graduating seniors, but I believe we have reasonable justification.
We’re not going to Awards Day because R doesn’t want us to, and he cringed a bit when I told him you were. He’s not getting any awards–he didn’t even bother to tell the school about the scholarship he got from Auburn, which, to my understanding, is one of the “awards” doled out at the ceremony (as if a college scholarship is an award bestowed by a high school). And, while I wouldn’t say he’s bitter about his high school accomplishments not stacking up with others because of the leukemia, he prefers to mostly ignore the whole charade. It’s hard to keep up with your peers, never mind compete, when a third of your sophomore year is spent flat on your back in a hospital room, with a third of that attached to a morphine pump, and then when the tips of your fingers turn blue and die your junior year because the stupid transplant doctors refuse to acknowledge that if something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it might actually be a duck (i.e., GVHD).
I can’t say that I blame him, nor that his attitude doesn’t reflect in some insignificant way my disdain for the manner these days of celebrating the rather mundane accomplishment of graduating from high school as if it were the ultimate that a child might achieve in life. To my reckoning, the whole affair long ago tipped into realm of the silly and immature.
Besides all that, as I’ve told him, there is no way some puny secular institution could provide him an award or some sort of recognition that would exceed or even equal the awards he has received from heaven through his existential battle with leukemia. For R, high school was a sometimes fun diversion from the real challenge God had given him of battling through a leukemia relapse and bone marrow transplant. It did not, after the relapse, comprise the foundational purpose and meaning for his existence, and really shouldn’t do so for anyone else, but high school achievement seems to have become another of the many false gods that are worshiped these days.
By my lights, the high school senior award and recognition circus represents something of a collusive effort between the school and the parents/grandparents to use the achievements (mainly contrived, as they are) of the kids to reflect glory and honor upon themselves. It has little to do with the kids. I think most kids get this, but their parents don’t, so require the kids be fully engaged in the circus atmosphere. Some parents can’t seem to be satisfied, and add another ring under the big top. We’ve been invited to no less than two private “celebrations” of the life and times of two of Reagan’s classmates, to go along with the three school-sanctioned ceremonies (awards day, baccalaureate–which he’s skipping, and graduation), and, of course, the church’s recognition service.
I have reared my children to not put much stock in what others think of them–to be primarily concerned with what they think of themselves–which in practical application, means to mainly disregard most of the high school catechism, where the whole point seems to be to concern oneself only with the opinions others have of you. I have tried to teach them that the only achievement that ever really matters is the victory they achieve over themselves when they perform to the best of their ability, at whatever challenge they might face. I have taught them that high school is just a phase to be endured–that it is mainly just a holding pen for teenagers–and offers very little in the way of practical experience that might later be useful in understanding how the world works. In a word, I’ve told them to enjoy high school and take as much from it as they can, but take it all with a grain of salt. It ain’t real.
So the very idea that a whole week should be devoted to celebrating the achievement of graduating high school, during which awards and accolades will be bestowed upon some students that happened by the accident of birth to be a bit quicker than others, whether on the playing fields or in the classroom, pretty much completely contravenes everything I’ve been trying to teach them. It is why I rather wish to tone down the high school graduation circus, not just in R’s particular case, but for either of the kids.
R happens this time to agree with me (if for perhaps different reasons) that the affair should be toned down, which is why he didn’t care to have us attend awards day. Given his unique perspective on the years of his life that included high school, and the fact I am already predisposed to his point of view, I will respect, without objection, his wishes.
Sorry for the length, but at least now you won’t have to hear it again when E’s graduation [my fifteen year-old daughter’s] rolls around. Hopefully she won’t be presented the same opportunity for proving her existential mettle that R was; regardless, I doubt my opinion of high school will by then change.