Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Community High School Graduation: May You Have Many Such Joyous Occasions

Written on 6/2/2010
Last night, my son graduated high school. Many people have asked me, "What was the Community High School graduation like?" Of course, it was AWE-some. It was my son!

Seriously, it was awesome in many ways, not just because it was my son, and if you want to see the video, you can, because it is going to be on CTN (Channel 19)! (It was two-and-a-half hours long; watch the first 30-40 minutes and you will get a very good feeling for the night.) Premier: Friday, 6/4/2010, 7 p.m. Replays: 6/5, 2 p.m.; 6/6/, 9 a.m.; 6/8, 11 a.m. or call 734-794-6150 for more times.

At my high school graduation (public school in the New York City suburbs), we girls wore long white dresses and the boys wore white dinner jackets. We had voted against caps and gowns. The ceremony was held on the football field (inside the track). Those of us in the top 10% (I was 19/26, there were 262 students in my graduating class) sat in rank order. Luckily, one of my best friends was right next to me. The rest of the class sat alphabetically. The superintendent and principal were supremely boring. The student council president gave an insipid speech about rainbows. We were called across the stage one by one. And that's the way it was. Even today, except for the lack of cap and gowns, I think there are an awful lot of graduation ceremonies exactly like mine.

Not so at Community's graduation.

In complete randomness of order (well, not complete randomness--number 10 was chosen to be last), here are ten things I really liked about the Community High School graduation:

1. It was not random. It was very well-planned out, with musical interludes, a cartoon movie and a slide show, and even a stretch break. I was told it would be 2-1/2 hours, and it was.

2. The kids. The dress was very mixed, from jeans to suits to caps and gowns.  For the caps and gowns, well--CHS has the rainbow zebra as its mascot, so any color of cap and gown matched. I loved the variety. There were a lot of kids I had known from my son's preschool and from Ann Arbor Open. Some of them looked exactly the same, and others were unrecognizably different (grown!).

3. The Awards: My daughter pointed out to me that most of the graduating class got recognized in the program. Sure, they had the typical "excellence" awards, but they also gave awards for "Perseverance in the study of mathematics," which went to students who stuck with math for all four years, and for PERSONAL fitness (achieving personal goals) and for personal FITNESS (excellence in conditioning).

4. Could there be a more magnificent place to hold a graduation than Rackham Auditorium? It was full of proud parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. I know it would be too small for the graduating classes of the larger schools, but the ambience was magnificent.

5. Both Todd Roberts (Superintendent) and Jen Hein (Dean) did a good job. Their speeches were short and to the point. Dean Jen recognized the retiring teachers. Their resumes are impressive! Todd Roberts focused on the students' accomplishments, and he made a small mistake, but it was okay (and funny). I'll tell you why in a minute.

6. Thirty seconds. That's the amount of time each student got to speak. Students stuck to their thirty seconds. There was a lot of thanking, particularly of moms, often of teachers, occasionally of dads. There was a lot of quoting: Dr. Seuss, Yogi Berra ("When you come to a fork, take it"), Babe Ruth, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and more. There was a quote in an eastern European language (Russian? Polish?). There were thank yous in Gaelic and Ojibway. There were exchange students speaking.  ("When I got here, I wondered, this can't be school. Is this summer camp?!") There were some stories. One student said, "My game plan when I started high school was to drop out after my sophomore year. But because of Community, my game plan changed. I'm going to college next year, and I am very happy to say that." There were a few songs. Specific memories. There were ideas: that at Community High one didn't feel one had to change one's personality; that at Community High you could find that you loved ........ (fill in the blank): literature, science, nerdiness, a particular person; that teachers at Community High lived to teach; that forum rocked. There were students who said they didn't think they would finish school, but they had made it. And they were proud. Honestly, I don't think that at my graduation most of us would have had such nice things to say.

7. There was Todd Roberts' very small error. One of the members of the Mock Trial team took his 30 seconds to say, "Todd Roberts is a very modest man. I am not a modest man. Our mock trial team didn't compete in the state championship, we won the state championship!" The crowd roared. And laughed. That Mock Trial team is proud--and competitive.

8. Statistics. I like them. According to the booklet, 122 students graduated. I think all but 3 or 4 were there. The counselors processed 423 college applications, and they reported that students were offered nearly $3,000,000 in merit scholarships. I thought that was a typo! My husband pointed out that if a student applied to 4 schools and got awarded $10,000/year in merit awards from all four, that would be (4 x $40,000) $160,000. So even though that student is only going to one school, and can only accept one offer, they still report all four offers. Still, I think that is pretty impressive. Also impressive? Fourteen students going to the University of Michigan. Twenty going to Washtenaw. Lots of kids going to small midwestern colleges (Kalamazoo, Beloit, Siena Heights, Albion, Oberlin, Denison). Students at Wayne State, MSU, University of Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Bowling Green...and a few going to east coast powerhouses. Most have plans to go to college.

9. Of course the slide show (baby pictures and grown up pictures) was fun, but my favorite part of the slide show was that they included the retiring teachers in it, with their baby/little kid pictures.

10. Forums do rock. Forum is the class that everyone at Community takes for four years. Forum is way more than a home room. If you are lucky, you get the same forum teacher all four years. With your forum, you go on field trips; you fundraise; you discuss. As a freshman, your forum teacher (not the counselor, generally) helps you plan your schedule. Forum leaders frequently serve as the first stop for other teachers, if a student is having trouble; and a first stop for parents, who need information about a developing situation; and a first ear for students. In other words, they divert a lot of work away from the counselors, and often they develop enduring relationships with their students. If there is one thing, I believe, that is completely transportable from Community to the other, larger, schools, and that would make a huge difference in the lives of students and the experience of high school--it is forum. (That explanation, by the way, was not a digression. That was the object lesson of the evening.) Students got introduced, not alphabetically, but by forum. The forum leaders handed out the diplomas, introduced each student, stood next to each student, hugged each student. And it was clear that there was a lot of love going on in those forums, between and among students and students, between and among students and teachers. There was the love.

Was there joy? You bet. Everybody loves a diploma, even the kids who are sad to leave.
May you have many such joyous occasions in your lives.


  1. I don't think you intend it, but this seems pretty insensitive to the many students that desperately want to go to Community but didn't get in. It seems like bragging when there are a lot of students that would flourish in this environment but instead have to struggle anonymously through Pioneer or Huron. No offense, but it struck me as inconsiderate in some ways.

  2. I don't think it seemed like bragging at all. It was a celebration. Do we have to suppress our joy at the risk of making someone else feel excluded?

    If the traditional high schools are not reaching enough students, I hope that the rest of the community does what it can to make all high schools more like Community. We are in the midst of big changes in public education. Maybe your current (or near-future) school board will be more receptive to changes than previous ones were.

    Ruth, it was great to read some happy news!

    - YpsiAnon

  3. Anon, I understand what you are saying, and I did think about it, and I'm sorry it made you feel that way. But honestly, many people have asked me "what is the Community High graduation like."
    Second, I looked at the pictures in the slide show of Huron's graduation (and probably tonight, we'll see Pioneer's)--and everybody there looks pretty joyous too. I met my neighbor's father tonight while they were on the way to the Pioneer graduation--and he was a proud grandfather. They're graduating!
    Last, but definitely not least, I think YpsiAnon is right that the big schools could adopt and adapt a lot of the stuff that makes Community Community. Forums? Adoptable. Community Resource credits? Already available, but could be pushed. Open campus? Adoptable. Those are all choices.
    And as for a personalized graduation, well--there is nothing to say that there has to be only one graduation ceremony at the large schools. Large religious congregations generally have multiple services: a "traditional," a "family," a "contemporary," etcetera. Why not have multiple, small graduations from the big high schools? Then you could have the slideshow, and the 30 seconds of fame.

  4. And one more thing--there are kids at ever big school who love their experiences. They love their athletic team, love their drama program, find out that they really love...(fill in the blank) math, student council, a teacher who went the extra mile, a special friend. I think, that if those students had 30 seconds, that is what you would hear.

  5. Check out these Ann Arbor Journal pictures.

  6. I agree with your recent comments, too, Ruth. I especially like the idea of more than one type of graduation ceremony. They do it at U-M. Ann Arbor could be "cutting edge" on this!

    - YpsiAnon

  7. Ruth, thanks for your beautiful writeup, which I shall treasure as a reminder of my son's graduation. I was especially grateful for paragraph 7, in which you quote my son's remarks about mock trial, but the whole thing is really great and captures quite well the feeling of the event.


  8. This was a wonderful read and not bragging at all. I wish all schools were like Community and that all students had the chance to go. But just because this is (sadly) not true, that is no reason to stifle our celebrations and reflections! I graduated from Community in 1996, and I will never forget what those 2 1/2 hours felt like! Thanks for allowing me to relive my own fabulous memories, and I am thrilled to know the graduation ceremony is still so special!

  9. This year was my first chance to attend a graduation ceremony for Community High. It was amazing! I wish everyone could have this experience. Everything about it was inspiring....... I am so blessed that my son has the opportunity to attend such a wonderful. I wish that Ann Arbor had more options so that other students could find the right "fit" for them.

  10. Ruth, our graduation (many moons ago) was really wonderful. Pretty girls in white dresses and boys if blazers and the best part ONLY 260 graduates!! LOL...My daughter's gradudation(on 6/10) will have over 700 students and will be held at a Concert Stadium. I've quite excited but at the same time torn. Besides the fact that it should take over 4 hours! Congrats to your BOY!