Warm greetings from Palo Alto where we recently attended a Stanford University graduation ceremony along with hundreds of other family members and friends who came to recognize achievements by the graduating Class of 2008. While waiting for the events to begin I found myself thinking about different meanings associated with graduation and what rites of passage mean during such times of transition. At a personal level reflected back to transitions associated with starting pre-school, of transitions to primary school and then the biggie, from primary to secondary school. Many young people finish education after secondary school and so face transitions into the world of work, into formal relationships and often into parenthood.
Stanford University Graduation 2008
Watching the Stanford graduating Class of 2008 I was acutely aware of young people who had experienced international transitions. Many had left homes, families and friends to attend university in a far away land. Now here they were sharing their achievements with special people who had come to celebrate their transitions. Many youths carried banners saying “Thanks Mom and Dad”! Others held their national flags aloft. Native American graduates made a special point of banding together to celebrate having achieved this significant milestone. Transitions reflected in their togetherness also anticipated separation after months of shared activity.
A time for friends to celebrate and say goodbye
Much thought had gone into the costumes, placards and activities that 2008 Graduates brought to this ceremony of transitions. Some carefully rehearsed and performed ballroom dancing routines. Others came prepared for a picnic; setting out rugs, food and drink for a leisurely afternoon in the sun. There was a Chinese Dragon dance and youths carrying huge papier-mâché globes of the world. Two lads dressed in their underwear and trenchers carrying a clothes line between them full of dirty clothes. All demonstrated individuality – as well as camaraderie – characteristics refined through personal and shared investments of time, energy and resources. These transitional activities marked an ending of one life phase and the beginnings of a new phase whilst acknowledging relationships that will be long-lasting. Many will remain close friends for life. Commencement Speaker Oprah Winfrey urged the Class of 2008 to commit themselves to community service as well as professional successes.
A time for faculty and families to share achievements
It reminded me of another graduation ceremony attended in Malaysia involving young children transitioning from kindergarten to primary school, complete with mini trenchers and graduation gowns. While I don’t really advocate formal graduation ceremonies from each stage of schooling, I do support the idea of marking transitions with something special: a meal, a memorable object, photo or occasion. Some dismiss graduation ceremonies as meaningless relics of history but in so doing, they minimise the significance of ritual activities that mark transitions. They also ignore how young children model aspirations around the significant adults around them.
A time for adult role modelling
Spare a few thoughts about how transitions are celebrated in your work as a child and youth care worker. What transitional objects/events do you offer to mark transitions as special for young people with whom you work? Will they smile and remember both relationships and achievements as they look into their personal “Memory Boxes”?