Flak in my day…

It starts every year around this time. The cranks take to social media and online comment sections — or worse, they shout at us in person — to belittle and bemoan the idea of having “graduation” for any grade that doesn’t end in 2 and start with 1.

“Back in my day,” they predictably start, a sure sign that what’s about to follow is going to be a cringe-inducing rant with a list of points indicating our society’s soon-to-be downfall and resulting journey to hell (most likely in a handbasket, whatever that means).

But before we hear the list, we most likely hear one of these phrases immediately following the “Back in my day” setup: we only graduated once; we knew better; we wouldn’t dream of making a big deal out of something so silly; we didn’t get a diploma just for finishing preschool/kindergarten/fifth grade/eighth grade; or my personal favorite, we didn’t get a trophy for just showing up.

I first heard it a few years ago, from a crank I know who had a real problem with their niece getting “some fake diploma” for simply passing fifth grade. Why should she get a diploma for that? And why should they have to buy her a gift? And how could her parents support setting unrealistic expectations, spoiling her, making her soft, and teaching her to expect a handout for every non-accomplishment?

To that crank and all of the others I’ve since heard or read, I say the following:

You don’t have to buy your niece a gift, so you can drop that complaint right off the bat. That’s totally your choice. If she expects one, then by all means, feel free to refuse; only you can teach her the life lesson her parents are too weak or ignorant to teach her. That’s your call, and I back you in your decision.

As for the rest of your lament? Pure nonsense. I’ll say the same to anyone who has a problem with the graduation ceremony I attended this morning — my son Matthew just wrapped up his time at a K-8 school, and he and his friends absolutely deserved the diplomas they received. They’ve worked hard, many of them investing nine years in studies, sports, and relationships there. They’ve moved from early childhood to adolescence — quite possibly, the toughest transition of human life. And they are about to embark on the next toughest one, heading on a strange new adventure in an unfamiliar and unforgiving place — high school.

Why shouldn’t they receive an inexpensive parchment that memorializes their time in school up until now? Why shouldn’t they have one brief moment to stand out, after thousands of moments of trying to blend in? A moment to cross the stage in tan slacks with a navy jacket or a white summer dress? (Or in one case, a gorgeous white pantsuit? By the way, bravo, norm-challenger! And well-supported, mom!)

Why not take a moment to relish the success of the classmate who came to their school halfway through their nine-year run, after unspeakable tragedy had taken both of her parents from her and upended her comfortable personal and academic life, but who was accepted in her silence and given time and distance (not to mention love) to share her story of loss on her terms and at the time of her choosing, and who bloomed magnificently into a successful scholar, athlete, and human being? Why not take a moment to cheer on the classmate who’s had to fight off leukemia’s devastating effects not once but twice now, undergoing almost chemotherapy for 30 percent of her life (not to mention a bone marrow transplant and other painful procedures) and far too often having to complete her studies in home or at the hospital, but who by God finished her eighth grade year with her classmates and crossed that stage today? I dare you to tell me we’re making them soft by giving them a graduation ceremony.

And why not take a moment to celebrate less remarkable circumstances? Why is this a problem to anyone? Matthew’s led a blessed life, as have many of his classmates, but where’s the harm in giving them that one brief moment, as well? They didn’t wear caps nor gowns, their diploma doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a face-value acknowledgement of exactly where they are in life right now, and each one of them earned it — no trophies “just for showing up.”

So why are you giving them flak? Why does it bother you so much that someone decided to take an hour out of some lives that aren’t yours, to allow these kids to celebrate? That you are angry about this, shows a lot more weakness in you than it does in them.

Your grievance seems to be based on the faulty logic that, because you didn’t have such a thing, there must be no need for anyone else to have it now. Do you know how utterly wretched and selfish that is?

Why on earth would anyone begrudge someone for having a life with improved circumstances over the past? Back in someone’s day, there was no air conditioning; does that mean no one should have it now? Back in someone’s day, there was no such thing as recorded music; should we ban current generations from listening? Back in someone’s day, there were no cars; why don’t you try walking to work on Monday?

The list goes on; there are literally thousands of things previous generations didn’t have that you do, so why not enjoy them and stop objecting to subsequent generations doing things just a little bit differently — and most likely, a little bit better — than you did. Sit back and enjoy life, instead.

That’s what progress is about. Change typically brings improvement. Life changes so life can get better. And so what if it happens to get a little easier? What’s it to you?

These kids aren’t leaving high school, but they’re making a transition. Whether they’re leaving preschool, kindergarten, first grade, fifth grade, eighth grade, or anything else, it’s a transition. And that’s a fun excuse to celebrate. Let them have a little bit of joy; that doesn’t make them weak or soft.

In fact, there’s great strength in joy. And joy is easy to give. So why not give it whenever there’s a good excuse to? Let them celebrate; there’s plenty of time for them to be miserable later in life. Maybe one day, they’ll even be as miserable as you.

In the meantime, please stop pushing your misery on the rest of us. Let people have fun. We all need to celebrate more — whether it’s completing nine years, one year, one week, or one test. Did someone accomplish something small? Great! Did they accomplish something huge? Also great!

Let people enjoy themselves. And to that end, stay off of our feeds and out of the comment sections. After all, those things didn’t exist back in your day.

About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at www.danbain.net; thanks!
This entry was posted in Education, Family, Life and how to live it, Parenting, The Kids and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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