High school graduation ceremonies will be in full swing this month in South Texas, and now that I am Senior Pastor, I no longer am obligated to suffer through the 6 or 7 graduation ceremonies a year that I attended as a longsuffering youth pastor. I did learn many tips and tricks over the years for surviving these tedious and painful commencements, however, and so, in the spirit of giving, I offer an article I wrote in 2004 full of tips for administrators, graduates and those sad wretches in the stands doomed to suffer in silence.
June 1, 2004
This morning marked the end of yet another painful annual marathon of high school graduation ceremonies. This year, my wife, Esther (9 months pregnant), got to climb the stadium stairs with me at three different high schools, and endure hours of agony and suffering at high school commencements in South Texas heat that climbed to over 103 degrees. We would have attended two more, but the baby shower was scheduled for the same time of day.
The first graduation ceremony I attended as a Pastor was at Rancho Penasquitos High School in North County San Diego in 1988, and the graduate was Reuben Settergren. As speaker after speaker droned on (“Today is not an ending, but rather a beginning…”), I played trivial pursuit with Bruce and Deborah, little realizing that I would be attending over 100 more ceremonies throughout the next 16 years, honing my commencement survival skills to perfection.
Finally it dawned on me that maybe future graduates and parents of graduates would profit from my accumulated wisdom. What follows are some tips for graduates and administrators and some tips for parents and guests.
TIPS FOR GRADUATES AND HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPALS
1 KEEP THE SPEECHES SHORT — PLEASE!!!
This may be hard for you to believe, but we don’t attend graduation ceremonies to acquire knowledge — THAT’S WHAT FOUR YEARS OF HIGH SCHOOL WERE FOR!! We are also not interested in how many area championships each team won or short histories of your own academic achievements. A graduation ceremony is just that — a ceremony! Keep it short and to the point.
2 AN 18 -YEAR- OLD GRADUATE HAS NO BUSINESS TELLING ME HOW I SHOULD LIVE MY LIFE
Ok kid, you just graduated from high school and you are STILL a baby. Just because you had no life in high school and dedicated every waking moment to your studies and somehow got into enough AP classes kissed enough teacher’s backsides to become valedictorian, does NOT give you the moral right to teach us ANYTHING about life! You haven’t even payed taxes yet!
Just share some experiences you had in school, pay tribute to your parents and teachers, read a memorable quote from a smart, older person, and SHUTUP! This should take no more than 10 minutes. If you can do it in a shorter amount of time, God bless you!
We know that “this is a beginning not an ending”, we know that “we may never see these friends again”, we know that “whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” we know that “we should reach for our dreams”, we know that “friends are friends forever”, and boy do we know that “the class of 2004 rules!” (just like the class of 2003 and 2002 before you). Please do me a favor: Just SHUT UP!
3. READ THE NAMES FAST AND KEEP THE LINE MOVING!
Ok, we are sitting in the heat to cheer for the one or two graduates we know. This means that we must endure hearing 438 names we don’t know. For the love of all that is good and holy, READ THE NAMES FASTER!!! Don’t wait for the applause to die down; just read the next name while the graduate is getting his picture taken, or better yet, learn from Poway High School in California and have two podiums and two lines of graduates at once. No one will ever forget the dispair and trauma of looking at the commencement program and realizing that you still have 300 names (with 10 seconds of applause each) to go before you can walk out onto the field.
4. LET THE GRADUATES PLAY WITH BEACH BALLS
Every year we watch the beach balls come out from their hiding places, and after 2 or 3 hits, a teacher snatches it out of the air and deflates the offensive toy. Let the graduates have some fun! We’re all suffering here; at least give us something to watch while we wait! Call off the fascist nazis who are taking away the only diversion that keeps us from wanting to curl up in the fetal position and beg for death! Sheesh!
5. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS SACRED — NO RETROSPECTIVE VIDEOS — PLEASE!!!
Donna High School is very proud of their tradition of ending every graduation ceremony with a 20 minute retrospective video on a big screen stretched over the scoreboard. This is cruel and unusual punishment! We have already spent several hours suffering through boring speeches and hundreds of names of people we don’t know, and now we have to suffer through a long school video before we get out on the field? Show your movie at a party for the seniors, but don’t kill innocent bystanders with your stupidity. I’m not kidding here, we didn’t get out on the field in Donna until 10 pm!!! This is not just cruel, it is wicked! I am asking the Donna High School administrators to be bold and do the right thing. Stop the madness!
ADVICE FOR PARENTS AND GUESTS
1. YOU DON’T NEED A TICKET TO GET INTO THE STADIUM
A few years ago, it became fashionable at some schools in Southern California to give a certain number of tickets to each graduate for family members and friends. This leaves the impression that you need a ticket to get into the stadium. That’s funny! All you have to do is just walk right in the gate with purpose and dignity. If they happen to stop you and ask for your ticket, just say, “Oh man, the ticket! I don’t think we have the ticket. Dude, I don’t want to walk back all the way to my car!” I have never been turned away for not having a ticket.
2. ARRIVE LATE
Whatever you do, don’t get to the stadium on time! Arrive 15 to 20 minutes late and you will still hear the national anthem. Remember, all the graduates march in at the beginning of the ceremony, and your graduate won’t even know you are there until you scream when his/her name is called anyway. You will thank me later.
3. COME TO THE STADIUM WITH DRINKS, SNACKS, PLAYING CARDS, TRIVIAL PURSUIT CARDS, CUSHIONS AND ANYTHING ELSE YOU NEED FOR YOUR SURVIVAL AND SANITY!
You have no idea how grateful you will be for a cold soda or a deck of cards after the 234th graduate walks the platform. BE PREPARED! I have played hearts, watched NBA playoff games on a small television, played chess, and engaged in many other relaxing diversions while waiting to get out on the field. Remember this little tip: If you don’t bring it, you can’t use it! Be prepared…
4. MAKE FRIENDS OF THOSE PARENTS AROUND YOU
Because your only function is to cheer wildly when your son/daughter’s name is called, you will have a lot of free time on your hands. Why not learn the names of those around you and make a deal to all cheer for each other’s kids. You will have a lot more noise for your graduate, and have more people to cheer for. You will be REALLY happy if you make friends with dads that brought air horns!
5. CHEER FOR RANDOM GRADUATES
Talk to your new friends around you and agree to cheer loudly for every 5th or 6th graduate. This will please and confuse the family members of the lucky random graduates and will keep you busy!
6. USE THE PROGRAM AS CONFETTI
Throughout the ceremony, methodically tear up the program into little, tiny pieces of confetti. When your graduate’s name is called, heave them up into the air, covering the crowd in white snow.
7. WHEN THERE ARE 30 GRADUATES LEFT ON THE LIST, START WALKING DOWN THE STEPS AND TOWARD THE GATE
You will want to be on the field early. The only thing you will miss is the benediction and more screaming by the graduates.
8. HAVE A DESIGNATED MEETING PLACE ON THE FIELD WITH YOUR GRADUATE PREDETERMINED
Nothing is sadder than watching parents wander around with balloons and flowers, vainly looking for their son/daughter in a sea of caps and gowns. Decide in advance where you will meet for pictures. I have discovered that the best place to meet is behind the platform, because it makes a good backdrop for photos.
And remember, “this is not an ending, but rather, a beginning.”