Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

Graduation speeches and a little last-minute learning

The niece I used to drive to the beach in the summertime when she was a kid drove me across the Sunshine Skyway herself the other day, crossing that monster bridge without fear, chatting about job interviews and apartment rents and such.

In the family vacation that followed, a younger niece baked cupcakes with me, as is our tradition. But she is now middle-school bound, and I fear tradition may take a vacation, too. Around me, they are growing up as fast as they can.

Which got me thinking about kids-about-to-be adults, and that recent dustup over what they can and cannot say in their high school graduation speeches. The debate: Pushing envelopes versus following rules, deliberate acts and actual consequences, and even grownups being grownups.

A Wesley Chapel High student had to wait until after graduation to get her diploma after she revised a speech that had been pre-approved by the principal, the Times' Marlene Sokol reported. The salutatorian at Tampa's Wharton High whose early draft had been judged inappropriate had his microphone cut off when he briefly went off script.

(It should be noted for the record that Harold Shaw had earlier in the year made a rather sarcastic video of icky school restrooms clearly suffering a lack of hygienic attention. To which I say: You go, Harold.)

Around the country, controversies have similarly brewed over graduation speeches invoking God and various unapproved subjects. Because who's not against censorship? And how about a little leeway for kids judged the best and brightest?

Then there's the part about rules, which, I am sorry to inform you, graduates, exist beyond high school and well into the Real World. Yes, consequences, too.

For perspective, I called longtime Hillsborough School Board member Candy Olson. If you have yawned your way through those speeches awaiting your own graduate's seconds of glory, it may impress you to know Olson has sat through 500 or so. (When things get dull, she checks out the latest in footwear below the robes.) She has heard speeches praising Jesus, insulting principals and invoking the NASCAR movie Talladega Nights.

Not that she's complaining. "Every year," Olson says, "you get a few that just make it worthwhile." Like the kid ready to quit back in ninth grade before finding the perfect fit at a school career center. Or the teenager who thanked her mom and dad for "the hardest name to pronounce on the attendance list," got a big laugh, and then talked about her immigrant parents' amazing sacrifices.

So how about speech-makers who deliberately deviate? Olson talks about attention-seekers versus civil disobeyers with actual causes. In history, she says, people "being civilly disobedient knew what the consequences were and accepted them." It's a point.

And maybe motive matters. Pointing out an injustice is a whole lot different than going for that Ferris Bueller look-at-me moment.

And speaking of motive, maybe even the grownups involved can examine theirs. Are they honestly trying to keep order, or just squelch a voice?

It could be a topic for that next Skyway drive: the real world, real rules, real consequences, and figuring out what's worth it. Warning, kids: This one takes awhile to learn.

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