Eighth Grade Graduation: The American Coming-of-Age

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Two dresses: one for the actual ceremony and one for the party after. Matching shoes, of course. Manicure, pedicure (OK, I couldn’t resist). Hair softly curled like Leighton Meester (of Gossip Girl fame). I even allowed her to wear make-up (shimmering pink lip gloss and iridescent eye shadow) for the first time. All this because my daughter was graduating from eighth grade.

‘Tis the season of graduations, and along with that comes the requisite hand-wringing and tsk-tsking about too much pomp given the circumstances. The New York Times argues we are “overpraising what should be a routine accomplishment.”  The blogging world is atwitter with complaints of excess. Uncool Mom laments that the cap and gown doesn’t mean what it used to. She wonders whatever happened to the notion that “to everything there is a season” and believes the season for graduations should begin with high school and not at the end of middle school.

I beg to differ. I believe our children need a meaningful way to mark the transition from childhood to young adulthood, a way that is honored and revered by the adults around them. Coming of age rituals are not exclusively religious but have a long history across a multitude of peoples and are celebrated in a myriad of ways.  The Jewish community honors this transition with the Bar and Bat Mitzvah. The Latino community celebrates with the Quinceanera. Roman Catholics and some Protestants have Confirmation. These ceremonies do have one thing in common: They bring the community together to honor and initiate its newest members. 

Our country, once called a melting pot, now referred to as a salad, brings people of different races and religions and classes together as we continue this experiment called Democracy. We need a common ritual to welcome the next generation. While we might wish that a high school graduation could be the one unifying demarcation point into adulthood, sadly with a drop-out rate amongst all males of nearly 20 percent and the numbers even higher for blacks and Latinos, we can’t confidently use this as a set point for the American coming-of-age.

Eighth grade is the last year we can be assured the vast majority of children will pass through together on their individual paths to adulthood in the United States. So let’s celebrate this transition. Let’s recognize it for what it is, the important step towards becoming a contributing member of our great nation.

I thought of this as I watched my daughter accept her diploma. She will go on to high school and college and likely graduate school as her mother and father have. She will become another citizen working to live not only her own dream but to play her part as we collectively realize the dream of our forefathers. She is the future they wished for. I couldn’t be more proud.

Visit these bloggers as they, too, celebrate their graduating eighth graders: 

Do you have an eighth grade graduation story to share? Please do. Let’s honor our children’s coming-of-age together.

Gloria Steinem once said, "The first problem for all of us, women and men, is not to learn but to unlearn." I am working on unlearning each and every day. How about you?

Lisen Stromberg



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