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Surviving 3rd Grade Graduation

George Doyle/Thinkstock
A rite of passage comes earlier.

by Sharron Kahn Luttrell


I can’t believe the new school year is already here. Didn’t classes just end? I swear it was only last week that I was sitting proudly at my 3rd grader’s graduation ceremony. There we were, the emotion of the day welling up in my eyes, my son sitting crisscross applesauce on the gym floor with his classmates. I was disappointed that there wasn’t a big-name commencement speaker, like Maya Angelou or Chief Justice John Roberts. But there was an ice-cream truck.

And now here we are, my son ready to embark on the adventure that is 4th grade. He almost didn’t make it. For a while Josh wasn’t sure what to do after 3rd grade. He didn’t feel ready to jump straight into the work force, yet he wasn’t keen on the idea of furthering his education, either. He was going to take a year off to think about it, but at the last minute he decided to keep up the momentum.

I’m sure he’ll be up to the challenge. I don’t mean to brag, but this was my son’s second degree. (He graduated from preschool four years ago.) And to think neither of his parents received a diploma until they finished high school.

Kidding aside, my son really did graduate from 3rd grade in June. The PTO makes a big deal of this because in our district, elementary school ends after 3rd grade. The kids leave their small and comfortable building and move on to the larger middle school.

Here’s what the PTO did for our 3rd graders: Each child received a commemorative DVD featuring photos spanning their four years at the school and a gift bag stuffed with T-shirt, folder, and pen emblazoned with the name of the new school. After the graduation ceremony, there was a cookout, a cotton candy machine, the aforementioned ice-cream truck, a fire truck, and an ambulance to explore.

The PTO president coordinated the entire effort and compiled and burned the DVDs herself. Another mother herded all 120 3rd graders onto the playground for pictures. (She got every last face in the photo, too.) Other parents collected each child’s favorite school memory and reproduced them in spiral-bound books. Every child received his or her own copy. Two more moms made the balloon arch that the graduates passed under. Then there was the food, and the grills, and the tents and tables.

Is this over the top? Only if you believe that graduation ceremonies before 12th grade diminish the significance of the real thing. I don’t. By the time these kids accept their real diploma nine years from now, they won’t be stifling yawns and fighting off bouts of déjà vu. They’ll be reveling in their achievement, and they’ll be awed at finding themselves in that pause—as brief as a catch of breath—between their past and their future. If their minds happen to drift back to their 3rd grade graduation, they’ll recall it as one facet of the rich and vibrant mosaic that forms their school year memories.

Even though I poke fun at the idea of a 3rd grade graduation, I’m grateful for that day; it gave me and all of the other important people in our children’s lives an excuse to stop time for just a moment. Because now the new school year is somehow upon us again and our children begin their forward march to the day they really do graduate. That day, too, will be here before we know it.

Sharron Kahn Luttrell volunteers for parent groups at two schools in Mendon, Mass.


# Ron Johnson 2008-05-28 20:16
I think it is ridiculous that some parents feel the need to "celebrate" every grade achieved.

It only raises expectations and now the cost of a simple, legislated primary education is blown way out of proportion. And these Gr 12 grads are horrifically expensive and poorly planned by volunteers. The kids expect garish venues, dresses, tuxedos, limos etc Then there are the monsterously expensive Banquets and Dances that are paid for by parents who's kids have no idea of the cost, sacrifice and inconvenience they cause.

When they graduate from college or University I can see the party. Otherwise the sacrifice is not recognized by them
# Shahina Saeed 2011-03-28 02:20
I totally agree with Ron. Furthermore, it's been said kids these days are too coddled, and the excess celebration of progressing from one grade to another only compounds the problem of kids expecting "something for nothing". In a time when the economy is so bad that many schools have cut back on necessaties, having a PTO spend money on such celebrations seems garish.

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