There are few places where the contrast between Scotland and America is more pronounced than High School graduations.
My American friends will be appalled to hear that when I finished High School, the bell went and I simply walked home never to return. No speeches, no farewells, no party, no banquet, no graduation ceremony, no diploma, no nothing. Teachers said nothing. Principal said nothing. Even my parents said nothing. It was just like any other day at school – except you didn’t go back again.
I remember the great joy of taking my school uniform off for the last time. But that was about the limit of the “celebration.” I think the feeling was, “You’ve finished High School? So what! You’ve done nothing yet. Now you start to prove yourself.” You wouldn’t dare call it a “graduation.” That was reserved for finishing university.
My Scottish friends will probably be appalled to hear the American contrast. Two of my sons just “graduated,” one from a Christian school, and one from an online school.
The one who finished High School seems to have been graduating for weeks. There was a one-week trip to Washington D.C., a banquet, a school awards ceremony, a public graduation ceremony, a limo trip to a graduation meal (yes, another meal), a graduates’ day at an adventure camp, and then the uniquely American “Open House.” (More of that in a moment).
The graduation ceremony was quite a grand occasion: full gowns and caps, diplomas, stage presentation, three gifts, a choir, a commencement speech, a valedictorian speech, and numerous other speeches too.
I’d never heard of an “Open House” before coming to America. For the benefit of my Scottish readers here’s a summary. Basically, you open your house for a specified 2-3 hours and invite all your school friends, family friends, neighbors, and anyone who’s special to you. (In our case, it was on Saturday and probably about 250 people turned up between 4-7pm).
The family puts together a couple of presentation boards with lots of pictures of the graduate from earliest years up to the present. Guests have a good laugh at the evident changes in both the kids and the parents! There’s a box for cards and gifts, which often produces a welcome cache of dollars for upcoming college tuition and expenses. Guests are then fed, watered, and cream-caked, and hang around chatting for anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours.
We were blessed with a beautiful day and used a marquee to provide a bit of shelter in the 80 degree heat. It’s quite an operation; Shona’s probably been preparing for it for two solid weeks. Don’t know where I’ll get the energy for my last son’s graduation in 17 years time!
At this point, my Scottish friends have probably stopped breathing. Some will be shaking their heads: “They’re mad. Murray’s turned his back on Scottish common sense. He’s betrayed his culture. Celebrating High School graduation? With all that razzmatazz? Kids will think they actually achieved something. It will go to their heads…”
Honestly, I would have said that myself a few years ago. And yes, there are excesses; although Dutch Reformed people keep it pretty sane and sensible compared to some Americans.
However, I’m now a convert (or apostate, depending on your accent). I’ve been to a good number of “Open Houses” over the last few years: friends’ kids, kids in my congregation, etc., and I love them. There’s a wonderful community spirit as the church family gets together to rejoice in another child getting to a significant milestone in their lives, to encourage them to remember the Lord in their youth, and to serve Him with the rest of their lives.
Can it inflate their egos? Make them proud? Tempt them to think they’re something when they’ve still got a lot to prove? Yes, yes, and yes. But given the choice between being overly cynical or overly celebratory, being too Scottish or too American, I’m going to spend the rest of my days risking too much happiness.