As I was preparing to be a school leader, I knew I would end up working in a middle school or high school. I had experienced the “end of the school year” many times as a student and as a teacher. In my classes when I taught English, the end of the year was often a dramatic time as struggling students were pressing me for extra credit or simply completing their regular assignments to have that hope of passing 12th grade English (which for some was the only thing standing between them and a diploma). When they completed their assignments and I was able to experience the joy of seeing them and all the other students graduate, I felt a sense of accomplishment and joy. I thought that as a school leader, I would feel that joy magnified exponentially, as I would have worked with so many more of the graduates.
Until one lives through the first “spring season of celebrations” as a high school administrator (and there are definitely comparable end-of-the-year events at the middle and elementary levels), one cannot really understand what happens behind the scenes so that students, families, and the teachers can enjoy events like graduation. When I was learning and preparing to be a school leader, I had no conception that a simple high school graduation ceremony entailed such detailed planning, typically from an administrator or a team of school employees led by the administrator. Here’s a short list of just a few of the countless details one needs to arrange:
1) venue (indoor vs. outdoor, on school property vs. outside venue, cost, seating, etc)
2) speakers (how many, whom, previewing the messages)
3) formation and practices
4) student and family issues (how many tickets does each student get, students on the brink of graduating or not and having those conversations when the student wouldn’t make it, accessibility for family members and guest with disabilities, controlling for undignified displays from students or family members, etc)
6) publicity of the event
As a school leader, graduation was always one of the most stressful times because of those issues above. While no school leader wants “that picture” of the graduation ceremony in the newspaper the next day of students or family members with beach balls, silly string, air horns, etc, it was more than that. As the teacher and school leader who always worked especially closely with struggling students, I wanted to event to be special for them, as I knew that this was a true milestone for them and their families, and I was fearful of anyone ruining that memory for those students, who would remember their high school graduation as at least one time when they achieved a major academic goal.
People who look to be school leaders grow in their understanding that end-of-the-year events at all school levels take on a whole new meaning for us. Recognizing that my first few years might have helped to sleep a little more during this time of year, which is an insane but truly blessed opportunity for school leaders on all levels to honor accomplishments of each student to close out the year in a positive way.