Commencement. We tend to think about that at the end of things. At the end of a school year, specifically. But I did some checking, and it turns out that "commence" means to begin. Isn't that interesting? Up until now, as a parent and educator, I have been stressing to my son the importance of "promotions." When he finished up at preschool, there was this brilliant ceremony called "Crossing The Bridge" in which kids who were on their way to Kindergarten walked across a plank set across two red boxes from one side of the playground to the other. When they had completed that journey, they were ready for the big time: public school.
The next promotion came a year later, when he had finished Kindergarten, my son wore a construction paper mortarboard and celebrated with his classmates by singing the songs they had learned and the letters they knew. He and his little friends had survived their first year and were looking ahead to first grade, and a few years off the whole promotion tour.
His fifth grade promotion was reminiscent of the one held just down the hall from the auditorium where the big kids were getting ready to say goodbye to elementary school. Those six years, all in one place, made a great foundation for memories: field trips, recess, paper airplanes, boys and girls some of whom would stick with him on his move just down the hill to middle school. It was a packed house.
Fifth grade was a full house, but not nearly as jammed as the Scottish Rite Temple where his middle school promotion took place. The tone was different here. There were more warnings, more admonitions. The kids didn't recite poems or sing songs. They strolled in, sat down, and listened. There were some encouraging words, but it was made clear to my son and his classmates that there was still a long road ahead.
Which brings us to today. The end of the road, at least where public schools are concerned. A great fuss will be made. Speeches too. There will be parties commensurate with the occasion. My son has learned his lessons and sung his songs. It's not the end. It's a beginning. Now all the songs are for him. It's a celebration. It's a commencement for the rest of his life.