Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Twixt Mom and Her Grad's Alma Mater

It may surprise you to learn that, yes, I do have some ground rules for my blog's essays.

One of them is that I generally refrain from writing about parenting styles - or the lack thereof.  Since I've never been married and don't have any kids, I've decided this is one area where I can't even fake credibility, so I don't even try.

Not that I try to fake credibility on other issues, mind you.  But I suspect parenting is hard enough without having to deal with people who've never done it trying to dispense advice.

In this case, however, whicj I first heard about on the radio this morning, I find a compelling conundrum.

This Rule Wasn't Made to be Broken

You've probably heard about it already, too:  when friends and relatives blatantly ignored the rules recently and cheered for Anthony Cornist during graduation ceremonies at Cincinnati's Mount Healthy High School, it was Cornist who got slammed with the punishment.  Twenty hours of community service.  Before he can collect his diploma.

Now, we all know the rules:  at most graduation ceremonies, especially at the high school and collegiate levels, and particularly if the graduating class numbers hundreds of students, everybody in the audience is supposed to hold their applause until a designated time, when they all can cheer at once.

It makes the event flow better because there are less disruptions, and everyone can hear the names being called out.  And the whole thing takes much less time that way.

Some people don't like this rule, and inevitably, even at the recent graduation ceremony I attended for Dallas Theological Seminary, a few graduates are greeted with brazen cheers by family and friends less concerned about honoring their loved one and the institution that helped them learn, and more interested in making spectacles out of themselves.

We don't know the history - however likely - of raucous and rowdy graduation ceremonies through which administrators at Mount Healthy have suffered in the past, and which contributed to their strict rules for them.  But with a penalty this stiff - and yes, it is stiff - I assume they'd have drilled it into the kids before showtime that noise during the reading of names would not be tolerated.

"Zero tolerance."  It's become a common phrase on high school campuses these days.  Both the students and their loved ones should have been familiar with what it means.

And yes, I realize that high school graduation is a big deal.  Especially if your family doesn't have a long history of them.  But graduations are a school ceremony, not a private party on your behalf.  Therefore, you don't really get to choose the rules.  After all, how would Cornist's family have felt if every other student's family had made a similar disturbance?

Indeed, there are valid, practical reasons for silence rules during these events.  Cornist's family benefited from those rules when every other family's loved one's name was read aloud.  Cornist's family isn't even advocating that everyone else should be exempt from those rules.  They just want their family to be exempt.

So what makes them think they're so special?

Apparently, their son is quite popular at the school.  He's a star football player admired by students and teachers alike.  But is popularity sufficient reason to break the rules when somebody crosses that graduation stage?

Pomp and Circumstance?

At Dallas Theological Seminary's recent graduation ceremony, the audience spontaneously broke out in polite applause twice:  once, when a wheelchair-bound woman with obvious physical deformities rode across the stage, and another time, when the name of a student who had died a month before the ceremony was announced.  Obtaining any degree while being confined to a wheelchair certainly represents an exceptional effort on the student's part, although I did wonder if the woman would have preferred to have been treated like anybody else.  Showing respect to the family of the deceased student - and other graduating students who likely knew their classmate - is an indication of care and sympathy.  So, neither of these two violations of the silence rule by the audience were discouraged by the DTS leadership.

A couple of other students were disgraced by loved ones who hooted and hollered when their name was called, which struck me as particularly unseemly for a supposedly "Christian" ceremony, but 99% of the audience respected the occasion and played by the rules.

Meanwhile, our graduate Cornist is facing those 20 hours of community service.  Twenty hours!  Good grief.  I'm not known for my lackadaisical, go-with-the-flow mentality, but even to me, that's simply absurd.  It's absurd because Cornist himself had no control over what his loved ones did.

Even if he blew off his school's warnings about severe consequences should parents interrupt the ceremony, and he never bothered to tell his family anything, the school's administrators likely announced to the entire audience what the rules were going to be.  In this case, it appears the fault lies squarely with his loved ones in the audience, and just because the only leverage the school has at this point is withholding his diploma, that doesn't mean they should.

It kind of demeans the value of his diploma if they're holding it ransom for such a relatively frivolous charge, and such a disproportionate punishment.  What's the punishment if a student's final grades were found to have been forged?

If they're trying to make an example of Cornist's family so that next year, parents won't think they can get away with similar interruptions, the punishment still should fit the crime.  And the violator.

Maybe this is the way it works for many high school graduation ceremonies.  Maybe school administrators across the country already have a policy of holding the graduating senior liable for infractions to the rules perpetrated by their loved ones.  It would be a rather ironic twist, though, wouldn' it?  Making a teenager accountable for their parents' behavior?  How's that for a final lesson in school?

You're Never Done Learning

So is there a way a school can enforce its rules for graduation ceremonies without penalizing an innocent party?  Probably not, especially if it's the parents who are the ones lacking respect for those in authority, and even their own graduating teen.  After all, their graduate is representing the school, so violating the school's rules should be an embarrassment to the student of that school.  Things would be different if Cornist himself showboated while walking across the stage, flagrantly violating the rules, and fully knowing better.

Hmm... holding people accountable for knowing better.

I understand this is a provincial concept in our modern world.  Modern culture teaches that we should be able to celebrate however we want when a loved one accomplishes something like graduating from high school.  But is the silence rule during graduation ceremonies a denial of something as important as free speech?  And doesn't free speech get degraded when we don't respect it and use it properly?

Speaking of speaking, it speaks to the quality of her parenting that Cornist's mother isn't willing to step up to the plate and pay the price herself for her family's violation of the rules.  Unless, despite her denials in the media, she's willing to consider a reduced sentence.  Say, five hours?  And the teachers who reportedly cheered along with her - people who definitely knew better - should offer to pitch in, too.

You know this is an issue that nags at almost everybody who has to attend these stilted, boring graduation ceremonies at this time of year.  That's why Cornist's plight has become national news.  It's another example of a few people violating the unwritten rules of what's best for everybody, thereby precipitating codified rules for everybody that carry onerous penalties.

But this case also provides a parent with one last opportunity to each a valuable lesson to their teenager before he graduates into the great big world beyond high school:  own up.  Take responsibility.  Admit mistakes and errors.  And in cases like this, where the punishment doesn't fit the crime, beseech the powers that be for compromise.

And when the punishment doesn't fit the crime, the powers that be need to be willing to hold out an olive branch of compromise, too.

This mother and her son's alma mater still have some work to do.

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