Somehow in the last few years it has become popular to have traditional graduation ceremonies—caps, gowns, Elgar—for increasingly younger students at increasingly inconsequential stages in their education. Apparently this idiotic tendency has also taken up the traditional valedictorian and speech.
I say “apparently” because, while I have not seen this phenomenon in the wild, my blog has recently been found my a surprising number of people using search terms like “elementary valedictory speech” and even—I kid you not—”kindergarten valedictory speech.”
Normally, I try to refrain from using my favorite four-letter words on my blog because I want the widest coverage possible, but I’ll find a happy medium here: Any graduation ceremony for educational transitions below high school is f#@%ing ridiculous. And I say this as a participant in a cap-and-gown-and-Elgar ceremony for both my sixth grade “graduation” and my eighth grade “graduation.” Those were stupid wastes of time.
Kids go through lots of transitions while they grow up. A lot of the time, they’re scared out of their minds when they have to go to a new school or advance a grade. So transitional support is good. But inflicting medieval traditions on them so their parents can take cute pictures of them in little caps and gowns is just stupid. There’s no better word.
And it’s even more ridiculous to expect them to make speeches. At least, that’s what I assume people are looking to do when they come to my blog on the search terms listed above. Maybe—though I seriously doubt it—they are actually just looking for things that adults could say as a valediction at these events. The word “valedictorian” derives from the Latin for “one who says farewell.” Maybe that’s what they’re doing. But I don’t have a lot of faith in people living in modern American having any idea of the meaning of the words they use, especially when it comes to their children. I suspect there are places where kindergartners and elementary school students are actually expected to make speeches. As if listening to speeches by older, supposedly more articulate valedictorians, was ever enjoyable. (Again, I speak as one who recently gave a valedictory address, for my law school class, so I’m under no illusions as to how difficult it is to recite a good speech from the other side of the lectern.)
(And by the way, that’s another thing. If you are standing behind it, it’s a lectern. If you’re standing on it, it’s a podium. You can remember that because the pod- root in podium is related to the ped- root in words like pedestrian—roughly, it means feet. You stand on a podium, behind a lectern. Got it? Thanks. Never make that mistake again, please.)
So. Parents. School administrators. People who think it would be cute to stick caps and gowns on your children who are going to a different school next year and run them through a graduation ceremony where you make mountains out of life-change molehills. Stop. Just give it up. Child education is a joke anyway, especially in public schools. You would do better to devote your resources to actually improving the intellectual and social development of your children than to dress them up in the patina of learning for a couple hours.