Cap and Gown Graduation for Kindergarten is Absurd

Adults need to stop attempting to confer feelings of self-worth on children from the outside. Self-worth derives from a sense of earned achievement. It comes from within.

My six-year-old granddaughter just graduated from Kindergarten. The children wore blue mortar boards and academic gowns and received rolled diplomas. They marched to a syncopated song called “I love my ABCs.” Some of the children moved to the beat, dancing in their little flip-flops. It was all very cute and the parents were snapping pictures like crazy. But it was a totally inappropriate way for five and six year olds to end their first year of school.

Kindergarten graduation may be cute, but it is excessively premature. An end-of-year party with cookies and punch would surely be enough to please the little ones. If a program is desired, let them recite poems or demonstrate math skills. If dressing up is wanted, let them dress up as characters from the books they’ve read or had read to them. Mortar boards and gowns belong to the university. Using them for high school graduation is questionable, but at least students completing the twelfth grade have–one hopes–learned considerably more than the alphabet.

Graduation events for grades below the final year of high school should be seen for what they are: a commercial opportunity for manufacturers and photographers, and a manifestation of the grade inflation that infects the U.S. educational system at every level.

Americans complain regularly about the low academic standards in U.S. schools, yet U.S. parents and school personnel devalue the learning process out of a well-intentioned but misguided desire to “make children feel good about themselves.” The operative word here is “make.”

A sense of self-worth cannot be bestowed from without. Presenting every Little Leaguer with a trophy, regardless of achievement, serves only to devalue the trophy. Presenting every child with academic honors, regardless of achievement, devalues education.

Children are not stupid. It does not take them long to figure out that “trophies for everyone” means that no one has to try very hard at anything. The lucky ones have adults in their lives who counteract the effects of public education by setting standards that reward achievement and self-discipline. The unlucky ones grow up self-centered, partially educated, and angry at a world outside school that doesn’t reward them for simply being themselves.

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17 Responses

  1. Kindly mortars and gowns. Who are they really for.
    For a lot of children now they have seen preceding years using them so they will now expect to wear them. Yet is it really what the child wants. I have read several articles indicating (no research evidence) that rewarding children is important. However it should be in a way that is important to the child/children.
    I have just seen pictures of a kindy graduation and it looked more like a wedding with balloons (many) , ribbons round chairs, chairs organised in rows. Surely ask the children what they want. Let them be who they are in the moment, not some opportunity for parents to show off.
    Also consider the cost of all this. Many parents cannot afford to go over the top. Then the environmental effects. Helium is a problem in that it cannot be created, rubber balloons are not recyclable.
    And now some parents are booking limos for their kindy graduation. What will you reward them with at the next step?
    Celebrate their hard work, achievements to etc but do it for the child, not you.

  2. Marie,
    High school graduation is a long American tradition. In the days before the current nonsense that “every child must go to college,” a high school education was comprehensive enough to prepare young people for adult life and economic security. A university education was for specialized professions. I’d like to see a return to a high school curriculum that does not assume that everyone is destined for university. I don’t object to cap and gown ceremonies for high school graduates. Unfortunately, many of these ceremonies no longer proceed with dignity.

    As for cap and gown ceremonies for kindergarten and middle school, schools that hold them might do a little re-evaluating.

  3. Wtf kindergarten graduations? I was just trying to find out why Americans feel the need to put high schoolers in graduation caps etc – I find that somewhat silly. Leave it for uni. You gotta earn that hat!

  4. I may be late commenting on this, but to this day I still believe this blog rings true. In my personal opinion, I think there should only be a graduation for high school and any/all secondary education and above that has been achieved. When I was a child, I was content celebrating the passing of each year and just being acknowledged for having gotten through with maybe a small party and snacks. From elementary to middle school, I grew up with teachers that constantly advocated the importance of what was being taught for the purpose of reaching high school. When I was in high school, my teachers stressed the importance of what we were learning to achieve success in the adult world (which the amount taught in this respect is not enough) and getting through secondary and post secondary if willing and able.

    I’m also in total agreement with Jordan. I searched where I could for articles trying to show if there was any effect of graduation ceremonies at a young age and was unable to find anything. I know this is a practice that has grown more common over the years, but has not been researched enough to be put into action. If studies show that graduating from Pre-K to 12 has a positive effect then I’m all for celebrating and will be the first to throw down for a party. The problem is, without adequate research into this, we may be doing future generations a great disservice and creating even bigger problems down the road. Now to clarify, I’m not hating on kids ‘graduations’. I’m just of the opinion that its harmful to their view of themselves and the world. Kids deserve a lot better than to be set up for failure.

  5. Christian,

    I just wanted to point out the hypocrisy in your comment. Within one paragraph, you both state that we should be ashamed of ourselves and that, in accordance with the age-old tradition of shaming those who express dissent, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” By doing this, you are not respecting another person’s legitimate and reasonable opinion because you much prefer to sit in the comfortable bubble you seem to have grown accustomed to.

    Though I agree with Maeve’s blog wholeheartedly, I would change my opinion and support graduations for young children if it were proved by scientific study that it actually helped them develop into functional adults. However, in the absence of said study, I suggest we do question the ultimate goal of these ceremonies and determine what they actually contribute to a child’s development. What does less harm: graduation, or a lack thereof? I’m inclined to believe the latter does less damage since it falls out of line with the general culture we’ve cultivated in recent years that holds more value to accomplishments than is appropriate. If I was trained to expect an award after every personal achievement, I would quickly become disgruntled and unmotivated in all my other endeavors. Luckily, I developed an internal drive to succeed and will not stop, regardless of how often I am acknowledged for it. This has absolutely nothing to do with bullying or criticizing children themselves. This has to do with child development and what recipe of childhood experiences will create functioning adults who positively contribute to our society. Let’s not take away a child’s opportunity for happiness or greatness simply because we think it’s “mean” to offer constructive criticism of one of their fabricated milestones.

  6. Christina and Christian:
    To interpret this post as an attack on the concept of celebrating the completion of kindergarten is to misunderstand it. The completion of kindergarten—a child’s introduction to formal education—is a tremendous milestone and deserving of a jubilant celebration. It is an important rite of passage. I’m just saying that the celebration should be age-appropriate. Academic gown and mortar board symbolize a rite of passage that will take place much later in their lives.

  7. Wow. There’s nothing better than seeing so many “well-educated” people trashing little kids and belittling 5 year olds for accomplishing something more than “just graduating” kindergarten. You people should be ashamed of yourselves for being apart of the very institution that not only accepts but encourages bullying in our society. This article and all those who agree with this despicable grandparent who wrote it, should not be allowed anywhere near kids with this type of negativity. You should all listen to what your mothers, grandmothers or great-grandmothers have always said. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Give these kids a break and keep your opinions and hate to yourself.

  8. CJ,
    I had reason to recall this post recently when social media and even “genuine” news sources featured a story about a boy “graduating” from middle school. Dressed in cap and gown, backed by a row of seated faculty, he gave impersonations of three presidential candidates. His performance was well done and amusing, but it would have been far more appropriate as an act in an end-of-school talent show. Small wonder that by the time students get to high school graduation they talk throughout the ceremony.

  9. I can’t agree more. First of all kindergarten is not a graduation. We all expect our kids to FINISH kindergarten. Otherwise then your kids needs help beyond the norm.
    As an employer, I can’t even imagine in the real world someone telling me I graduated kindergarten, here is my ABC diploma. Oh my.
    It is utterly ridiculous that cap and gowns are used in any grade level besides the one that counts and actually give you a degree to present to your future employers or colleges.
    Parties okay, end of the year celebration okay but cap and gown for kindergarten, how absurd.

  10. Lori,
    I’m sorry that your comment was lost.

    I get a lot of comment spam and go through carefully, looking for genuine comments that are related to the articles they’re attached to. I may have deleted yours accidentally. Please forgive me. I really value readers’ comments.

  11. Wow. Such hate. In a world where there’s so much unhappiness & sadness, what does a little celebration matter? If you think a cap & gown are symbolic, what a waste. Seriously. It’s a rite of passage. Your cap & gown are lovely parting gifts of your last few years of academia, not to mention symbols of the debt that most students find themselves in. Your arrogance is laughable. The emotional attachment that you seem to have to some cheap fabric & cardboard is equally pathetic. I am that parent that will shell out $50 so my son can play dress up for his kinder graduation. Not for commercialism, not because I’m a lemming but because it is an important milestone for him & I honor this transition in his life. No, I don’t buy into the philosophy that everyone should get a trophy for showing up, but I know all to well that tomorrow is not guaranteed and I will unapologetically find any & EVERY reason to celebrate with my children. If for no other reason than to make memories. You guys rain on someone else’s parade, my little whippersnapper & I will not only be enjoying his kinder grad, but we’ll be hanging a superhero from the tassel. (PS: I skipped all my grad ceremonies. I didn’t need the validation & no, I didn’t hang my degrees either.)

  12. Thank goodness…I though I was the only person in the world who thinks that this “tradition” is ridiculous!As a mature-age student who graduated from two universities and wore my mortar board and gown with pride, it offends me that some tiny whippersnapper can cheapen the whole tradition at a kindergarten, or even high school, graduation. These kids simply have not yet put in the hard yards. They have done what we all did – progressed through the school system. Graduating from university means you have gone the extra mile in terms of effort and output. Moreover, the kids have no idea about the centuries-old history behind the graduation dress and, probably, couldn’t care less. Wish we could put a stop to it, but too many parents seem to think their kids deserve it!

  13. I’m curious. I left a comment here a couple of days ago, and now it is gone. Was it not worthy of publication? I read your column; I acutally subscribe to it. My comment was a memory of my own children’s kindergarten grauation ceremony, in which no caps and gowns were worn. Did I not follow some necessary protocol for commenting? If so, I’d like to know what I did wrong, and I will correct it when leaving any future comment.

  14. In a world where conformity has become a ‘chosen-must’, it is conducive to propagation of further conformity that those being conformed must be made to feel good about themselves. In the former ages, when the world’s pop. was a fraction of what it is now, there was, relatively, more genius than we have now. Giving accolades for nothing special will help continue this trend. But at least they will be happy, and thus, will not upset the status quo; which is important,if we are to keep the public at peace. … Don’t you think?

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