To borrow an exchange from an unlikely source, I’d like to refer you all to a conversation from my favorite Pixar film of all time, The Incredibles:

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…

Every time I watch this scene, my mind travels to the many preschool and elementary school and middle school graduations my generation now finds itself attending. And while I don’t think that these micro-pageants suggest a celebration of mediocrity, I do wonder why they’ve become so popular. It seems they get more formal and taken more seriously each year.

Admittedly, my junior high did have a “graduation” ceremony. In 1990, I think this was just becoming a thing. There were no caps and gowns, and there was no conferring of certificates, just an end of the year assembly with choral singing, the principal giving a speech, and a lot of hugging and “See you next year!”-saying. We kept it in perspective; most of us would be seeing each other again in three months or less, either at the same high school or in the same communities. We knew it wasn’t goodbye forever or even the end of anything particularly momentous. It wasn’t like we were getting to leave home and live like grown-ups or anything.

While it’s cute to see our little ones in miniature caps and gowns, twirling tassels and shuffling across the cafeteria or gym floor, isn’t it possible that making such a big deal about them moving on to the next grade will desensitize them to the graduations that actually mark the end of something major?

Graduations aren’t the only traditions kids are experiencing too early and too often. In the past decade, there’s been a trend toward kindergarten, elementary and middle school “proms,” where kids are encouraged to dress up in formal wear, find dates, and have big getting-ready/send-off photo sessions, in mimicry of the rituals we’ve attached to actual high school proms. A few years ago, a series of pictures made the internet rounds of small children dressed up in colored wigs and coordinated prom formal wear, to the chagrin of many commenters. Here’s some footage from a kindergarten prom that took place last year (Peep the song choice.):

Whatever happened to building anticipation for adolescence and adulthood, to watching older girls and boys prepare for their send-offs into the adult world and getting excited and daydream-y about your own big days? Aren’t proms and graduations supposed to celebrate long-term accomplishments? Aren’t you supposed to earn them after years and years of successful progression from one level of school to the next? Do kids today really need full-on cap and gown ceremonies just to get from elementary to middle school or from preschool to kindergarten? Do their parents need it as a pat on the back for an academic calendar year (or three) of good work? Did your grade schools have graduations?

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