Are All These Elementary School Graduation Ceremonies a Fail?

Is elementary school graduation the new “participation trophy”? And is that a bad thing?

Recently, a debate broke out among the Tampa Bay Moms Blog writing team. It began with a post in our Facebook group that asked:

“Are we really in a new era where kids ‘graduate’ from EVERY SINGLE grade level? Am I the only one who thinks this is totally absurd?”

As moms, we all had opinions on this question. As writers, we had no problem expressing them.

Predictably, the comments ranged from “Preschool and 12th grade are enough…[the] beginning and the end,” to “I am for all the celebrations! Every year and grade that concludes likely signifies one of their biggest accomplishments in their short lives.”

Additionally, a couple of moms brought up the seemingly random awards their children won (“Mother Hen” and “Happy Helper,” what?). Meanwhile, some touched on the hardship for parents in getting off work to see these awards presented to the aforementioned little hens and helpers.

So, are we doing our kids a disservice with the elementary school graduation ceremony? Or is it all part of recognizing an important rite of passage?

The Cap and Gown Conundrum

Maybe it’s the cap and gown itself that makes the elementary school graduation ceremony seem “off” to some people. I chimed into the debate with this nugget:

"Preschool and kindergarten I can see. Mayyyybe middle school, although I'm skeptical on that because middle schoolers are old enough to know they're not *really* graduating. But yeah, I saw someone on Twitter post a picture of her kid's fourth-grade graduation, cap and gown and all, and I thought it was ludicrous."
Don’t @ me.

I mean, I get it. Nothing says “cute” like a little kid in a cap and gown. Plus, it’s a tailor-made photo op for a generation growing up with their entire lives documented on social media. However, to my mind, it also feels kind of wrong. Graduates are adults beginning a new phase of their lives, not children entering the next grade. As I said in a subsequent comment, you don’t graduate from fourth grade, you’re promoted to fifth grade. It’s a progression, not a culmination. In that sense, holding an elementary school graduation ceremony seems inappropriate for young kids. This isn’t the end. You’re still on your way.

Notably, I came across an article that sums up the argument pretty well. Elementary school graduation is either adorable or absurd. Just depends on who you ask.

Awarding Success

Of course, we get plenty of opportunities to celebrate along the way. My son’s school hosts a quarterly awards ceremony after every nine weeks’ grading period. For instance, at the elementary level, they recognize academic achievements, perfect attendance, and conduct. My kid earns a few of them, chiefly attendance and behavior, with some academic recognition sprinkled in. We congratulate him on his success and remind him that he could always join the straight-A honor roll kids onstage with just a little more effort. My son shrugs and heads back to class with his friends.

Afterward, I file the certificates away for inclusion in the scrapbook I hope to get around to one day. (Narrator: She’ll never get around to it.)

Proud student with his awards certificates
My little scholar with the awards he raked in during the second quarter. The music one was a surprise! In fact, we’re still not sure what it was for.

The Awards Ceremony and Elementary School Graduation Blues

I do love to see my child up on the stage, beaming as he holds his certificate. But is the awards ceremony really all that different from elementary school graduation, just without a cap and gown? My husband and I attend every one of them, but what about parents whose work schedules don’t allow them as much flexibility? Do those kids get short shrift? Furthermore, are we needlessly guilt-tripping their parents?

On the other hand, is it worthwhile to offer the kids some recognition, no matter how small? One contributor to The Huffington Post presents a compelling argument for the myth of the entitlement mentality of the participation-trophy generation. Maybe all of those awards made a difference. Besides, says another writer – the kids know better.

And so, the debate rages on. But one of our moms summed it up with a perfect reason to keep the celebrations going, whether for elementary school graduation or something else.

“Then again I am totally the type of person that will get some cake and wine and throw a random celebration just for it being a Saturday with friends.”

Sounds like a plan, amirite?



Kathy K
Kathy’s family moved to Tampa when she was 5, and aside from a few years at the University of Florida (Go Gators!), she’s never lived anywhere else. She’s Irish by heritage, Greek by marriage, and mom to one brilliant little boy. She’s an avid sports fan and lived her Disney-geek dream as a member of the 2015 Disney Parks Moms Panel. A former TV producer and PR pro, Kathy now proudly sports the title of stay-at-home mom. Follow her sports-loving, Disneyfied, Tampa-centric antics on Twitter @kathyk671.


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