The party in the back room of the restaurant was obviously the happening place to be. Fancy outfits, trays of food, balloons and bouquets everywhere, a huge sheet cake, lots of people buzzing about — a handful of partygoers who seemed to be on the shorter side. Short as in not quite tall enough for those scary rides at the amusement park and certainly a bit surprising in a place better known for its strong drinks and steep price tag.
I asked the barkeep, with whom I’m friendly, what was going on? I’m never above casually crashing a shindig to wish the man or woman of the hour well and stick a finger in the corner of the icing.
Kindergarten graduation, came the answer.
Seriously? Was kindergarten that difficult? Did finger-painting and recess cause a mid-year motivational crisis?
Yes, seriously, she said.
My niece’s junior college graduation just a week before didn’t merit this much pomp and circumstance and her journey was a multi-year endeavor hampered by two young children and a decent amount of sloth. The family had to turn out in full force for her diploma and mortar board celebration. It was certainly an accomplishment and we wanted to encourage her to continue toward a four-year degree, even if in her case it may take double digits.
But kindergarten? Graduation? Or, rather as I’ve learned, the term is now promotion as though the class of 2014 aced their yearly performance evaluation and will finally get that cost-of-living increase.
Could be this particular family and this particular pint-size graduate are a rare bunch who take education — or at least an excuse for a good party — very seriously. Could be that they are more high-brow than I ever will be. After delivering the graduate’s iced tea, the bartender told me, the 6-year-old girl looked at the assortments of real and fake sugars and asked for a “side of agave sweetener.” Mercy.
Later the girl and her equally-sized companion sidled up the bar like a bunch of happy hour pros decked out in ribbons and shiny shoes. The bartender bent down and over the counter to hear the request with the rest of us eavesdropping.
“Can my friend sample a Shirley Temple?”
In other words, this was not a crowd for whom a hug and a trip to the pizza parlor was going to suffice.
Money and class and non-alcoholic beverage aside, does a kindergartner deserve — not to mention need — a large-scale lauding of a milestone that frankly should be a given? The same goes for students of other class levels which are now getting into the Hallmark-ization of graduation with balloons, flowers and printed invitations long before the more traditional high school sendoff. It’s not that we shouldn’t be proud of fifth-graders, sixth-graders or anyone else who survived that year’s servings of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. And certainly there was a time and place when making it past fifth-grade was a serious achievement. Perhaps I’m remiss and this is still the case in some corners. For the majority, though, elementary school is traditionally not where the success buck stops.
If a child is getting a party at kindergarten, what in the world is she going to expect come third-grade? And if her parents don’t throw a rager after eighth-grade, what’s she going to do — drop out, give up and shack up? If so, chances are many more issues are at play than simply not getting the right DJ at the post-middle school sendoff.
Perhaps I am simply out of touch with the ways of today’s graduation rites. It might also be that in hindsight the piñata and punch my kindergarten class had on the last day just doesn’t measure up.
However, that’s not saying I didn’t get anything when I successfully completed kindergarten.
I got to go to first-grade.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.