I'm a little late getting to this, but I had a few thoughts about my kids' graduation from 8th grade two weeks ago. As Julie knows well, I'm not a big fan of making a huge deal out of graduating 8th grade (or any of the other big celebrations, particularly prom). Almost all of my 8th graders in the after-school program graduated, and I'm really proud of some of the kids that worked hard all year. I'll always remember a Dominican kid who told me that his teachers always told him that he wouldn't graduate and that he loved proving them wrong (he was held back last year but came to the program almost every day this year and worked harder than anyone else to get his homework and projects done, despite the fact that he really should be receiving extra help in school). There were a lot of similar stories this year, and I think the kids that exceed the low expectations that are too common in the school should be rewarded and made to feel like they accomplished something.
However, I have always thought that making a big deal out of graduation sends the wrong message to the kids. I know that a lot of my kids aren't going to graduate from high school (a really sad thought) and that it is nice to give them a ceremony, but it always seemed like the graduation confirmed the low expectations that we have of the school system and of the kids. In my middle class school, high school graduation wasn't a big deal because we were all expected to graduate from college. In my rather limited view of the school from the after-school program (I don't work with many high achieving kids), it has always seemed like low expectations are the standard (see a previous post on college).
Even with all my reservations, I enjoyed graduation. It was nice to see the parents all dressed up to support their children (a nice answer to those who say that low-income parents don't care about their children's education), and the principal focused on the future (and college!), which made the event seem more like a starting point than an ending. What really made it special were the big grins on the kids' faces throughout the ceremony. After a stressful year filled with tests and middle school angst, it was really nice to have an evening to make the kids feel good about themselves. I know it doesn't solve any of the problems the kids will face in high school, but we really should do more for their self-esteem.