Monday, July 13, 2009

Graduating With Honors

May and June is a great time of year for students all over the United States. First off, it’s the start of summer break, and that means the world to kids. Students everywhere declare their hatred for school, then begin the time-honored ritual of sleeping late, hanging out with friends, and desperately trying to get Alice Cooper’s chorus, “School’s out for summer,” out of their heads. That’s for four days. Then, they moan to their parents about how bored they are.

May and June also brings around the graduation celebrations for high school seniors. It’s the last real school graduation celebration, for no one in their right mind celebrates graduation from college. After all, who wants to leave the comfort of two classes a day, a nap in the afternoon, a party every night, and scantily clad co-eds for the rigors of a 9-to-5 job for the rest of your miserable life? The only celebration is if you can talk your parents into a fifth year. If you get so lucky as to get a sixth year, you’re required to die right at the end, Logan’s Run-like, for it’s all downhill after that (plus, you’re almost thirty anyway, and that was the end of the line for everyone but Farrah in Logan’s Run).

I wrote high school graduation is the last real school graduation. Unfortunately, it’s not the first. Now, when I was going through school, we had only had one graduation celebration – that was for the completion of high school. Today, it seems every idiot in our recognition-starved society celebrates graduation or “promotion” from almost every single grade.

This spring, I had friends who actually had to take off work to celebrate their kids’ and grandchildren’s promotions out of pre-school. Are you fucking kidding me? Hey, congratulations! Over the course of the year, you learned how to stop shitting your pants and how to color within the lines. Next year in kindergarten, your teachers will instruct you on how to best pick your nose without being seen. Then, first grade – farting! Here, take your diploma, toss your little tassle to the other side of your mortar hat, and get the fuck out of the way – we have a schedule to keep and that angel food Bundt cake looks delicious.

For the love of God, getting out of pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, or middle school shouldn’t be a cause for celebration. It should be an expectation!

It’s not just school either. Anybody have a kid who participates in youth sports? Every kid on every team gets a trophy. Everybody is a winner. Not so when I played. When I played, winners got trophies – really big championship trophies. Losers might get a little tiny one, which was quickly thrown away or hidden so as to stave off embarrassment whenever a winner came over to the house.

Now, I get that everyone should be recognized and supported. I also agree that it’s absolutely wonderful that every participant in the Special Olympics gets a medal and is declared a winner. But, folks, that’s the Special Olympics. If every child garnered the same treatment, no one would be special anymore.

This entire mess started about twenty years ago with grade inflation. Teachers started giving out higher and higher grades – to everyone. Standards crumbled. It’s supported by data. Grades are steadily rising, while standardized test scores are flat, or as in the shining case of California, declining. Getting a 4.0 doesn’t mean as much anymore, not when 20% of the class boasts of the “achievement.”

Celebrating every little achievement will have, or perhaps is currently having, a long-term detrimental effect on our society and way of life. We can’t continue to celebrate every time a mouth breather fogs a mirror. Eventually that leads to an unaccountable, unmotivated, slacker workforce that sits around and feels a false sense of entitlement.

Have you taken a peek at enrollments at an engineering or medical school lately? They are packed with foreign students who have worked hard and clawed their way to the top of their classes. In India, China, Korea, Japan, and Eastern Europe, students don’t get jack shit for “graduating” fifth grade. They get a hand-me-down coat, a loaf of stale, crusty bread (or noodles, depending on the nationality), and are shoved head-long into sixth grade.

You watch – twenty years from now, Korea, China and India will be the leaders in science, medicine, and business. Americans will have two choices for careers: either working at Wal-Mart, or working at Starbucks and serving lattes to those who do work at Wal-Mart.

Of course, it’s just this guy’s opinion.

I’m interested in what you think – feel free to leave a comment below or tweet me up on Twitter @RayHartjen.


  1. Nice rant. Yes, we Americans to tend to be a bit lazy and have this overwhelming sense of entitlement. Latte anyone?

    - mOlson

  2. I completely agree with you! As much as it was great to see my youngest son's excitement when he received a ribbon for a recent swim race, it was for 7th place!!! Are you friggen kidding me? Back in the day it was 1st, 2nd, and 3rd only... I think the rest of the swimmers got a piece of paper with "loser" written on it. If that didn't motivate you to work harder, nothing would.