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Caps-n-Gowns and Gone


Graduation Day is Bittersweet for School Staff


Dave Arnold

"As the school year begins to wind down
As students are measured for a cap and gown
We begin to rehearse the graduation ceremony
This is when I become a little melancholy"
             From "When Eagles Fly" by Dave Arnold

I hate to admit it, but as my exterior becomes more aged and callus, my interior becomes more sentimental. As I watch yet another group of graduates cross the stage, it's becomes exceedingly harder to hold down the emotional lump in my throat.

Some year soon I'm going to burst. While graduation day is a tribute to the power of education and academic achievement, it is also when we adults recognize that these teen-agers are now free to explore and discover things on their own.

These eagles we've nurtured will now fly off as far as their minds will take them. I have faith in their potential to succeed. I know they will venture forth bravely and, at times, haphazardly.

I also know they may never return to their old school grounds. This is why each year it becomes more difficult to control the lump. There are more and more graduates out there that I may never see again. This makes graduation day bittersweet.   

Watching Them Go

Many education support professionals (ESP) feel the same way. As I spoke with different groups of ESPs at NEA's National Education Support Professional Conference last March in Philadelphia, most everyone said that graduation day can be rough for them and teachers, but not in the same way.

Naturally, teachers are proud to see their students walk across the stage and claim their diplomas. A successful student is the result of hard work on their part and excellent and caring instruction on the part of teachers.

But most teachers spend one year with a student before watching them move ahead to the next grade and the next teacher. Maybe they will have a student for several years and get to watch them blossom from one year to the next. It's different with ESPs.

Twelve Years

"It is not that I would rather these students not move onward
 It is that I've grown attached after 12 years of having them on board"

It is very likely that any student graduating high school has spent the last four years with the same ESP staff. In many small school districts, students may even have the same school cooks for their entire student career. That's 12 years.

It is also possible that a student might have the same bus driver from the time they begin school until they finish. Twelve years!

Same goes for secretaries and custodians. Same student, same ESP, together for 12 long ones.

Letting Go

"But just as an earth dam can only temporarily restrict the torrent's flow
You one day reach the point that you must let go"
                                                          
A few years ago I spoke with ESPs from a big city school. The school has a nursery for students who are parents of infants. One student became a mother when she was in middle school. The student brought the baby boy in every day to the nursery until she graduated high school.

The little boy entered pre-school when his mother graduated and continued through the same school system until he too graduated. Many of the ESP staff had been with this boy for 18 years.

When the young man claimed his diploma, they told me it was like seeing their own child graduate. In a sense, they helped raise the boy. Of course, the lumps in their throats were as big as boulders and could not be contained. Eighteen years!

Multi Generations

"It would be nothing short of a sin to constrain a wild river
And how could an arrow ever reach its mark by remaining in the quiver"

I've been employed as a custodian for over 25 years. I'm now seeing my second generation of children walk the school halls and the commencement stage. Many of the students that I now know are the children of students I knew decades ago.
 
As the new generation grows and matures, I'm proud and thankful that I shared in their parent's lives, and am now involved with theirs.

But I know that after they cross the stage, hug their parents, congratulate fellow graduates, and say goodbye to now-former teachers and ESPs, that I will likely not see them again.

"But when eaglets spread forth their wings and begin to fly,
 As they soar high into the heavens, I wonder if the eagles also cry."


(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at dparnold@csuol.com.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.


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