High School Halls: Moving the Tassel, Throwing the Hat

We’re coming to the end of the year and the end of my High School Halls series, in which I’ve looked at how high school was when I was growing up (in the 1980’s) and how the experience is today.

So welcome to Deep-Fried Friday. Next week, we’ll celebrate a little, but first we have to cross the stage and get our diploma.

That Was Then

I graduated in May 1986 with 212 fellow seniors from Calallen High School in Corpus Christi, Texas. There were several necessary components to the graduation experience. I’ll cover them in turn.

Senior Pictures. For grades 9 through 11, the yearbook published a black-and-white photo for each student. But for senior year, photographs looked far more professional and were printed in color. Those who didn’t like the picture from the school photographer, or those who wanted something different, had their own senior pictures taken. Here’s mine.

senior pic
Good gravy, I look so young!

Class Ring. Many seniors chose to get a ring with Class of 1986. The ring company came to school, made the pitch, and presented options. Rings were customized, money was spent, and students showed off their new jewelry with pride. Practical gal that I was, I passed. Never got a class ring–in high school or college.

grad announcementGraduation Announcement. The graduation announcements were all the same, with the same stilted language and the same fancy script. What we seniors each got to do was to add the little card with our name on it and then tuck the announcements into envelopes and mail them to people who cared. Or at least people we thought might give us something for finishing school.

Cap and Gown. To this day, I do not understand the fashion choice of paper-thin gowns and flat cardboard caps. Who looks good in that hat? I remember paying attention to what dress I would wear underneath, but that didn’t really matter. I was dressed like everyone else–in a maroon gown with a square plate on my head.

Pomp and Circumstance. That song goes on forever. At least it did at my graduation. Sir Edward Elgar, an English composer, wrote a series of Pomp and Circumstance marches, the first of which is used as the traditional graduation song. Its slow cadence and steady snare drum rhythm make it an appropriate song for the long ceremony that will follow.

Speeches. Traditionally, the valedictorian and salutatorian of the senior class are given the opportunity to speak to their fellow students. I did not say a word. I also have no idea what our female valedictorian or male salutatorian said, although I was friends with both of them from Honors English classes. I’m sure it was uplifting, forward-thinking, and profound.

Diploma. It’s just a certificate, but somehow having that diploma in hand is a wonderful feeling. However, at the graduation ceremony, all you get is a piece of parchment paper rolled up and secured with a ribbon. It’s a fake, and your real one won’t arrive until later.

Proud Family. Whether your parents were unsure if you’d ever get through school or whether you breezed through your four years, you hopefully had a proud parent or two hanging out to hear your name called. Some families were rather obnoxious, quite frankly, when their loved one was announced and they erupted into cheers like their child had won the Heisman or an Oscar. Others shed tears before, during, or after the ceremony. Still others got a pat on the back or a punch in the arm. It all counts as pride.

Celebration with Friends. Hopefully, you had a friend or two or twenty to share the excitement of finally finishing your thirteen years of primary and secondary schooling. I remember gathering with my friends–all of us wearing big smiles and 80’s hair. We didn’t break out into a chorus of We Go Together, but it was a fun moment nonetheless.

Grad w friends

One more thought on my graduation: Looking through my mementos, I saw that I led the school song with another student. I have no recall of that. It was nice to see my name on the program, though!

This Is Now

I did a little online research and interviewed a good friend who is approaching graduation with her teenager. According to my friend, graduation preparation now happens earlier and bigger. It’s the same as our graduation, “but on steroids.” Indeed, she estimated that the total cost of all of the graduation activities and swag for her daughter would likely land somewhere around $2,000. Ouch.

Senior Pictures. This is big industry now. Not only are teens getting head shots, photographers now have graduation-themed props, several scenes and wardrobe changes, and packages easily ranging in the hundreds. The cheapest photo package at my friend’s school was $229…and that is from the school-scheduled photographer. Unless you can also use your photos to get a modeling gig, this seems like a lot of money to me.

Class Ring. We ordered class rings maybe between junior and senior year, but now senior rings are offered in the junior year. It makes sense to wear them longer, but it also means that you start paying for graduation long before you ever finish classes.

Graduation Announcement. There is the standard school announcement but you can add to that design, with photos or other flair. Unfortunately, you will still have to load and lick your own envelopes.

Cap and Gown. I’m advocating right now that we stop the madness and not require future teens to wear the flat hat. How about no hat? So far, however, the cap and gown remain a part of the graduation experience. Yet the fabric has improved. The material seems to be sturdier–although I don’t know why. You’ll only wear that gown once.

Pomp and Circumstance. No dubstep version yet. Stay tuned.

Speeches. Love to Know Teens gives sample topics for graduation speeches. Their suggestions? “How We’ll Measure These Years,” “The Future Is in Our Hands,” and “A Debt of Gratitude.” But really, once the administrator passes over the microphone, they’ve lost say in what happens next. It’s a fascinating high school tradition that the teachers turn over the mic to students and let them say (or sing) whatever.

Diploma. Whether your class has 30 people or 300, commencement still includes the calling of each name and the student crossing the stage to shake an administrator’s hand and grab a diploma. But be careful, your real diploma can be denied if you misbehave at the commencement ceremony. Check out some of the headlines I found while researching:

Oklahoma High School Valedictorian Denied Diploma for Using “Hell” in Speech

Cheering at Graduation Leads to Arrest, Diplomas Denied

Teen Denied Diploma after Tebow-ing

Denial for misbehavior is usually temporary, contingent on an apology or penance of some sort. But still, don’t you want to grab that certificate and go when you’re done?

Proud Family. Some things don’t change. In fact, for those families who are spending up to $2k or beyond to graduate their kids, seeing the senior walk across the stage should evoke a thrill or at least a huge sigh of relief. If you are graduating, just get ready for your parents and family members to smile or cry a lot. It goes with the territory.

Celebration with Friends. Going with the bigger theme these days, some teenagers really invest in the big night. They may enjoy a night on the town, rent a condo on the beach, or take a vacation with friends to celebrate the end of the high school era. As usual, be responsible, however you choose to entertain yourselves. This time is also the beginning of a new–and hopefully wonderful–era.

What do you remember about high school graduation? What are graduations like now? How have things changed or stayed the same?

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12 thoughts on “High School Halls: Moving the Tassel, Throwing the Hat

  1. My graduation was pretty much like yours. My daughter is graduating this spring (aaarrrrrrrgggghhh! I can’t believe it!). Much is the same, only her school is much larger than mi.e was (700+ in her class!) so it will be a really looong ceremony. Not only the calling of the names, but her principal is a major windbag I hear. They sold class rings when she was a sophomore, although she got hers jr.year. Their school is so big, there are always a dozen or so student with perfect gpas, so there are a dozen or so co-valedictorians!

    1. This spring? Good luck with that. 700+ in a class seems HUGE. Still, I’m sure you’ll be able to pick her out of the crowd and swell with pride when her name is called.

  2. Our high school was weird: the boys wore dinner jackets, the girls wore long white dresses. Our high school district covered many of the areas near the lake in the suburbs north of Chicago, so I guess that caps and gowns would have been declasse. I went to the newer and less sophisticated school in the district, but still had to rent a dinner jacket. Another weird thing: our prom night was the night of graduation.

    As for my senior portrait, I ended up looking like I should be sitting on Paul Winchell’s lap…

    1. Oh, and we had two graduation ceremonies because there were close to seven hundred kids graduating. We were the class of ’74, the end of the Baby Boom tidal wave.

      1. I’d prefer the dinner jacket/long dresses plan…except that I look awful in white. 700 kids is a lot for a single graduation; breaking it up was probably a good plan.

        I can’t imagine having prom the same day as graduation, though. That’s a lot of planning and primping for those girls. Thanks for going down Memory Lane with us, John!

  3. I don’t really remember much of my high school graduation back in ’73. I do remember lighting up a cigarette during the ceremony. A friend told me I couldn’t do that on school property and I said what are they going to expel me, I’m graduating. Nothing did happen.

    My mom didn’t like the pictures and I had to have them taken over. She still didn’t like them. Oh well. And we had a small graduation party with family. That’s about it.

    1. A cigarette during the ceremony? You rebel! LOL. Those were the day, though, of smoking areas on the high school campus. Those didn’t go away until sometime in the ’80s where I lived.

      Thanks for coming by, Donna.

  4. Yes, we have the same traditions here in Michigan. I had over 400 in my graduation class and now we live in an even bigger school district. oy. That speech was funny, can’t remember the one our valedictorian gave, but I remember it being epic at the time. The night of graduation there was an all night party at the school. There were all kinds of games, a DJ, snacks, it was fun and we stayed out of trouble. Good memories. Thanks, Julie.

    1. An all-night party at the school sounds like a great idea for graduating seniors! Your friends would be there, but you’re not out drinking and driving or whatever. I think some schools near me have graduation parties like that.

      Now here’s the real question: Are you still staying out of trouble, S.J.? 😉

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