There have been some more comments concerning whether participants in commencement exercises should be allowed to wear cowboy boots. So far, no one has told me that it should be okay. Opinions express general approval of a dress code.


“It’s nice if they more or less match each other,” writes someone who graduated in a different school system.”  We had to follow guidelines. Also, college graduations have guidelines.”


Another person, who graduated quite a while ago, says, “I always thought there were reasons for having everyone wear a gown, and the gowns are matching. That way no one is trying to stand out by having better clothes or being flashy. That would include conservative shoes or ‘average’ shoe styles. Nothing that looks really expensive. A student or family that doesn’t have much extra money should not have to worry about not being able to look like the other students who are graduating.”


There was a thoughtful e-mail from a recent grad who commented that the cowboy boots issue is no biggie. The young man got his diploma. That was what counted. He graduated. So he didn’t get to walk across the stage—big deal!


But this same person also raised a different issue relating to commencement exercises. This one has to do with teen moms. He thinks it is unfair that teenage mothers who complete high school are not allowed to have their small children present in the auditorium to see their moms get their diplomas.


I admit I had never thought about that. I was not aware that there is a policy that would be applied with this effect. There’s a lower age limit? Well, if I had given it much though, I’d have supposed such a rule would be all about how many tickets each grad can have, and how those would be parceled out. How about a child who would be held or would be on someone’s lap the full time? That would not take one of the seats.


Now that I am informed that no one younger than five is admitted to commencement, I am also told, although not by an official, that this is so that there will be less likelihood of disruption. The ceremony is longer than I had recalled. Typically the aud gets hot. Pre-schoolers, especially babies and toddlers, are likely to get restless and uncomfortable, and then chances are they’ll be vocal about it.


Does it mean a lot to the child, to see Mommy graduate? I am guessing that it doesn’t, in most cases. The child might find the fact that Mommy finished school, and will not be going to school anymore (at least now), quite interesting. But listening to “Pomp and Circumstance” and speeches won’t add to the child’s pleasure. The most interesting bit might be recognizing Mommy in the procession and finally on stage. But will a little one grasp the significance of the achievement?


More likely the point is not that the very young child will enjoy being there, but that the teen mom will want the child there—will want to look out into the audience and see her little one. That’s understandable, but the graduation ceremony isn’t about the achievement and responsibility of parenthood, but about the completion of high school.


A corollary issue presents itself. There are teen dads, too. When a male student who is a parent graduates, wouldn’t he want his child there?


Graduation could be one of the events for which it makes sense to provide a “nursery”—a play area with supervision by qualified students and adults where families can leave, or take, children who wouldn’t be comfortable in the whole ceremony; or where they could be taken if a need arose for taking a crying or disruptive small child out of the aud—with the adult guest then free to go back to the ceremony.


The child would have seen part of the ceremony. It wouldn’t help to have the child stay in the aud, crying, would it? Wouldn’t a graduating parent be upset by that?


My correspondent seems to think it doesn’t matter if there is some noise from little kids. I tend to think it would; others may agree with him that it would be a minor annoyance that should be tolerated. But, as I see it, it isn’t just a matter of whether the audience is disturbed. It’s also a matter of whether the child is comfortable enough to be able to take in the event with some interest, or is increasingly upset and miserable, and is being restrained or shushed or threatened with punishment, surely not something that adds to anyone’s appreciation of the event or creates good memories.


When my daughter, by then a mother, graduated from R.I.T., having been a full-time student and worked full-time, and raised her little girl with some family and some hired assistance during the years she was single again, her little one went to the “night before” event along with several grandparents. I had known of Joi’s grades and dean’s listings, but for some reason had not processed the “honors” aspect until I saw the asterisks by her name, in the booklet.


By the time in the evening’s proceedings when someone asked that the honor graduates all stand, little Jewell had become so tuckered out she had climbed into her mommy’s lap and gone to sleep. Joi stood, with her little girl in her arms.

All through the audience, as people craned their necks and looked for the grads they knew, there were murmurs about the sight of that slight young woman, holding her sleeping child. “Awwww. She’s a mommy!”


Indeed, it is a special achievement, to finish high school or to earn a degree, as a single parent, or even a married parent—and I would say, especially as a mom.


How does graduating seniors’ parenthood figure, in high school graduation events? Your thoughts, please.




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