Graduation 2023 and some thoughts on bullying

My honey locust tree and a photo of the flower that produces the mess we have all over our yard. Luckily, it composts well.


Last night, we attended the graduation of our oldest granddaughter from 8th grade. Mary Kay and I went excessively early so as to procure seating for our son, his wife, and other daughter as well as some of the extended family.  We. quickly grabbed the first seats of the bleachers for about twelve people. That, in and of itself, was no small feat.

I found it fascinating that during the ceremony, they did about two rows of the students at a time and asked us to withhold applause until the entire row of students had received their diplomas. The first student was called and applause rang out. I don’t recall being reminded about waiting to applaud. I think we should have been. Our granddaughter received hers about midway through that part of the ceremony and we thus applauded immediately. It was only fair since every student up to that point had been applauded.

At several moments in the ceremony there was a large reaction and applause of the students to a particular student receiving a diploma. I remember thinking and hoping that it was for a good reason, not to poke fun. This morning in a breakfast with family members, I found out that one of those times, at least, was rather to make fun of a student who had just received a diploma. That concerns me.

I remember, back in the day, of being through many a graduation ceremony as a teacher (at New Trier High School in Winnetka) and that it was a known fact that each and every teacher had graduation duty from time to time. If I happened to be an adviser, which I was quite often, my duty was to sit with my group in graduation. This had a dual purpose: to be a part of a ceremony for students with whom I had spent much time and also to be there in case of behavior that might be less than savory.

Each student was called up and received a diploma jacket but not the actual piece of paper. This also had a dual purpose as it made it less likely to give someone the wrong diploma and also to use the diploma as a piece of leverage in case of unpleasant behavior. After the ceremony, my group would find me in a designated area after I had procured the diplomas. If a student had misbehaved, the diploma would be pulled. A pulled diploma meant that the student and parents would be required to make an appointment with the Principal’s office to get the diploma. If necessary, there might be consequences, maybe some sort of  apology and/or community service or an appropriate alternative. I remember that after we instituted this proactive routine which involved both faculty and administration (placed wherever needed to facilitate) in the program, that good behavior and civility was the outcome.

Last night, I know that there were faculty members present, seated in rows in the audience. Being more of a part of the ceremony, for example, having teachers and administrators, at least every other row (with a list of students), would have been helpful. Our granddaughter had told us that for some reason at graduation rehearsal, there was a seat for her, but but during the actual graduation, somehow, they had to do some quick juggling for her. Utilizing an already adult presence at the ends of rows would take care of things like that and also facilitate the movement of kids up to the podium to receive their diplomas. Mary Kay also reminded me that Lake Forest High School, where she taught, had had graduation behavior issues and instituted a teacher at the end of each row.

From what our granddaughter told us, the student who was applauded did not fortunately know why it was happening. The parents, however, most certainly did. This is not something that any good school district wants to condone. I doubt that the perpetrators, and there were many, could be picked out for a discussion. With a more actively involved faculty and administration, with a list in hand of their row or rows, those involved in inappropriate behavior would be known immediately. The presence, alone, is generally more than helpful to promote good behavior and citizenship.

No student should be bullied or made fun of by peers.

About Richard Koerner

Seventy something, father, papi, educator, organizer, Francophile, traveler, amateur photographer, gardener, cyclist, kayaker, calligrapher, cinephile, reader, and overall renaissance type human being.
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