Share This Post

Children / School

Your Opinion: Are today’s grade-school “graduations” celebrating mediocrity?

I’m all about celebrating milestones. Births, deaths, birthdays, holidays–I’m your gal. However, there is a trend in our schools that disturbs me: the graduation ceremony.

Twelfth grade, college and even 8th grade Continuations should be lauded affairs, a recognition of many years of hard work. I have fond memories of my senior year revelries as my dear friends and I celebrated our journey together and toasted our future.

Now, can someone please tell me where preschool, kindergarten, grade-school et al. “graduations” fit into this formula?

Rites of passage are important and I don’t want to diminish recognizing that a child is moving from one grade to another. But it was when a friend sent a picture of his (albeit darling) kindergartner in her cap and gown that I couldn’t help but think “REALLY?”

And I remembered this exchange from The Incredibles that has always resonated with me:

Helen: I can’t believe you don’t want to go to your own son’s graduation.
Bob: It’s not a graduation. He is moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade.
Helen: It’s a ceremony!
Bob: It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional…

I don’t want to be Debbie Downer here. I’m all about throwing a party and having an academic ceremony to recognize the children’s achievements. When I was younger, I was a smart and athletic kid who cleaned up on the awards every year. My children are still young and have shown different aptitudes but they likely won’t be class valedictorians.

And that’s OK.

As a parent, I’m trying not to dilute the achievements of the overachievers by making everyone a winner. I’ve seen this a lot in my children’s sporting leagues. Yes, young children should have positive reinforcements but continuing with this pattern so as not to hurt their feelings is not teaching life lessons. There are winners and losers and the most important thing is how you are taught to play the game.

I truly mourn for children who do not have support at home but am in awe of engaged teachers and mentors. I hope I’m instilling in my children a strong work ethic and a life-long love of learning with the resolve to stay in school.

But if they need a ceremony with a cap and a gown to stay motivated, maybe we’re doing something wrong.

Photo Credit.

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

Share This Post

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.


  1. I posted a rant about this on FB and Twitter yesterday and all the insightful comments inspired me to write a post about it. I promised those who shared I would include their comments as well.

  2. Wait until Fifth Grade. The parental hoopla with that nearly sent me over the edge. You would have thought it was a HS graduation.

  3. Word! I have to go to my preschooler’s “continuation” tonight…because he’s not graduating to Kindy, he has one more year in preschool. WTH!?

  4. I just had preschool graduation on Monday night, with caps and gowns and it was so cute. They each got a diploma too. Afterwards my 5 year old told me he was so proud of himself- he had worked hard and had graduated. It does seem a little silly initially but I think, within reason, it’s a chance to celebrate a milestone and give the kids something to be proud about.

    There is so much pressure these days on kids, and if at the end of the year, putting on a cap and gown to graduate to kindergarten, first grads, middle school, etc. helps the kids and parents mark the end of the school year, and to celebrate the hard work, I don’t see the harm in that. If anything, I think it could help them to continue to be excited about school and their next milestone graduation.

  5. I’m totally with you on this one. My oldest is having an 8th grade continuation next week, which is different than graduation, I think. It’s a K-8 school, so many of the kids are moving on after 9 years and it’s more of a goodbye party than anything. I feel a little sniffly and teary thinking about it. But we’ve made it clear to her, no gifts, no other trappings of “graduation.” Keep the REAL thing special.

  6. This will be a great blog post. I’ll pimp it. I’ve been there, done that, didn’t quite get that but did it anyway. Shed a few tears and then thought, WTF? It’s day care/preschool. By the time I got to the h.s. graduation for my eldest, it was not as big a deal as I had thought. Likely, the pregame ceremonies took away from the real deal. Hoping college graduation gives the true pomp & circumstance.

  7. Ah yes… they took OFFICIAL graduation pictures of the 6th graders this year. Yeah. I was the bad mom and REFUSED to purchase any. Why? BECAUSE IT’S FREAKIN SIXTH GRADE!! Maybe this is a little known fact… but most people actually pass 6th grade. Crazy, right? So why are we celebrating that fact? No seriously. What’s the big deal? I’m absolutely, 100% proud of my son. He’s done a fantastic job this year… but this is just kinda ridiculous.

  8. My college age son was with me for my Kindergartener’s “continuation” ceremony and saw these HUGE balloon bouquets attached to large gift bags people had brought for their kids and he said, “Are you KIDDING me?! I didn’t even get anything that big for my HS graduation!”

  9. So you’re saying the car I bought Sienna for her kindergarten graduation is excessive, too?

  10. I just posted something about Cap & Gowns on my FB status and twitter, too. I admit Claire’s Cap & Gown pics are adorable and make me teary. Then, I snap out of it and realize this means she can get a job and start paying rent. Right? Heh.

  11. I even feel this way about high school graduation. I understand celebrating the moving on to another stage of life, but banners that say things like “YOU DID IT!” It’s high school, if you don’t graduate you are an idiot. They let you graduate if you just show up for 4 years. I’m right there with you on celebrating mediocrity.

  12. Totally agree! And, if we’re always celebrating everything, the big moments will be lost among the little ones.

  13. I agree with you, however, my 4-year old just had a preschool graduation with caps made from posterboard and gowns made from trash bags. The real kicker is that he still has another year of preschool…so technically he shouldn’t have graduated. So I have another preschool graduation to look forward to. *sigh*

  14. True that! did you really make it big after you tied your own shoes?

  15. I’m already feeling the anticlimax of HS graduation before Reagan even starts Kindergarten after reading this. I. Had. No. Idea. Is there a preschool prom too?

  16. Is this really such a new thing? I remember having a graduation ceremony when I finished kindergarten – over twenty years ago. I don’t think I got any presents, but family came to the ceremony and we all got to showcase what we’d learned that year. I don’t think there’s any harm in celebrating even little milestones, as long we we don’t go too overboard with it. Maybe sometimes it’s celebrating mediocrity, but many times I think it’s simply rejoicing over the little things. And that’s not such a bad thing at all.

  17. I tend to disagree to an extent. I still remember pieces of my preschool graduation and hold onto the teddy bear that each kid received. I remember pieces of my 8th grade promotion and how mad I was that it was a promotion to a specific high school instead of a ‘graduation’ since I was moving onto a private high school. I don’t remember 6th grade graduation, but I probably had one.

    I see value in these specific milestones (not every grade, just these) as they were turning points for every time I went to a different school and for preschool, it was a different state entirely. We celebrated moving on and up and the tears came from the uncertainty of loosing old friends and not knowing what the future school had in store for us. There were small family celebrations, but nothing outside of the nuclear family unit and no extra gifts. But still, alas a celebration.

    I have three children of my own now, two that have gone through preschool and kindergarten graduations. My oldest attended kindergarten at her preschool and thus her preschool graduation was highly underplayed, but her kindergarten one was signifacant. Again, she was moving onto a new school, moving away from many friends whom she will probably never see again as her new school was in a totally different city. My son also had his preschool graduation at that school, which was the big event for him as his kindergarten graduation was with the elementary school. Now my youngest goes to in-home preschool, so I anticipate Kindergarten being her celebration as it will be the first time she’s in such a big event (meaning lots of people, not hoopla).

    I look forward to these mini-milestones with my children and am happy to take the pictures at the ceremonies. I have to agree that excessive praise of mediocrity could be an issue if there were graduations at every grade, but the significant changes that involve moving to new schools (as a whole) are important to kids and I think they should be important to parents as well. Graduations of this sort should be a celebration that shows the kids that you were successful at overcoming any challenges you may have had at this level and you will be able to overcome any new challenges that lie before you in the next stage of your life. Graduations are encouraging.

    As a side note to a previous comment, not everyone manages to graduate high school. My husband didn’t initially due to a school transfer from private school in which credits were not transferable. Whether his fault or lack of communication with guidance counselors to see he gets the right credits to graduate, it didn’t happen. Several years later, he went through a program and got his full diploma around the same time I graduated college. For his extra effort and not giving up completely, I was very proud of his determination to graduate and my celebration was felt for both of us. By the way, he is not an idiot in the least and has a very successful management position in his field.

  18. I have a pretty funny photo of my kindergarten graduation, circa 1970. It’s the only photo I have of that class, all in our caps and gowns and holding little diplomas. So this isn’t all that new.

  19. It’s not just that there are too many different types of award ceremonies; it’s that we also seem to have awards for everything imaginable. Heaven forbid we leave someone out of the process. Unfortunately the ones who end up paying a price in all of this ‘award everything/everyone nonsense’ are the students who have truly worked hard and earned legitimate awards. I just got through attended 2 school awards ceremonies, one for each of my boys, and my bottom’s still numb from the experience. The bottom line is, instead of rewarding mediocrity, we need to focus more on pushing students to want to better themselves.

  20. Seems to be an American pop culture trend to celebrate mediocrity and award everyone despite individual performance. I like Dash’s quote from The Incredibles, “If everyone is special, then no one is.” Truth is: everyone is special in their *own* way. Let’s start recognizing true, unique strengths and appreciate them for what they are – instead of setting a standard for everyone and handing out blue ribbons to all who attempt to fit the mould.

  21. I absolutely 100% agree with Juliann! I’m a little shocked at most of these comments to be honest.

    Who wouldn’t be happy to see their “big kid” graduate from being a “baby”? These ceremonies don’t celebrate mediocrity they symbolize your toddler growing up and moving to a different stage in their life. A stage where it becomes more serious and they are graded and basically start the rest of their lives. Kids have a lot of homework and pressure theses days.

    What normal parent wouldn’t want to hang on to their younger babyish years a little? I know I was proud of my Kindergartener. Took dozens of pictures. Got a little teary eyed because my baby will be in first grade. I’m amazed at the beautiful, smart, amazing child I’ve raised that has learned to walk, talk, tie her shoes, and read a book.

    At least I can say I AM proud of my little one for working hard all year and moving on to the next stage in life. I am going to remember this little graduation for the rest of her life and it will be a happy memory for me.

    I say to the negative people suck it up and have a good time for your kid because it IS special to them. It’s not something you do EVERY year it’s a milestone so enjoy the moment!

  22. I like what my son’s preschool does—no graduation. But, they had an end of year garden celebration where the grandparents were the guests of honor. And, of course, ice cream with sprinkles. Celebrates the end of school “milestone”, but with the emphasis on fun and showing off their artwork from the year.

  23. I too have to disagree at least in part. My daughter just “graduated” from preschool today. For a five year old, it is a major milestone to finish two years of preschool and she will be starting a new phase of her life next fall.
    On the other hand, I hope I don’t have attend another graduation until she finishes elementary school.

  24. I agree completely, schools are celebrating mediocrity when they do things like this — it’s an abysmal thing to teach children that being average is something worth celebrating.

  25. Great feedback, everyone and I value your insights!

    I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. I am NOT saying we shouldn’t have celebrations to mark the accomplishment of moving to the next grade level. I’m just saying the way we choose to recognize that accomplishment is a value (our value) we have placed upon our children. My son’s preschool class is having an hour-long party and parents are invited. You know what he’s most excited about? “There will be COOKIES there, Mommy!”

    THAT is age (and task) appropriate. Young kids couldn’t care less about a cap and a gown. That is just how we as adults have learned to measure milestones and success. There are so many different ways to celebrate their accomplishments and make them proud of their hard work. Why put extra financial constraints on schools (and many parents) who are already busting at the seams when there are more appropriate ways to celebrate their accomplishments?

  26. We weren’t forced to buy the Cap & Gown photos, but I did, because they were adorable. Plus, the thought of those alongside her “real” Senior Pictures make me smile. I get teary just thinking about how much she’s already grown and how I will feel on her last day of Pre-K on the 31st. She’s been at this school for three years, and it’s exciting to move on, but bittersweet nonetheless.

    I’m not sure what they have in store for us on Tuesday, other than a fun day of crafts and treats and certificates (all three of which are a HUGE deal to Claire). I know that I’ll have to bring the Kleenexes; that’s for sure. 😉

  27. I teach kindergarten and do not have graduation…never have…they are just moving down the hall. Our district did have 6th and 8th grade graduation when kids moved buildings. This year, letters were sent to all parents telling them now it will only be hs grads district wide…focus on the big pictutre. No more “mediocrity” as these were getting out of hand. It is to keep the focus on yhe ultimate district goal….making kids college and career ready. Begin with the end in mind and celebrate when we get there.

Leave a Reply