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Graduation Overload

Cap and gown ceremonies for Kindergartners?

Sometimes, I wonder if we've gone too far.

Last spring Christine clapped and cheered in a theater full of camcorder-wielding parents as her youngest son Hans, dressed in a golden mortarboard cap and gown, walked across stage to pick up his diploma. There were flowers, photos, tears, and an expensive buffet afterwards to celebrate this milestone event -- Hans had officially graduated kindergarten.

Christine wanted to celebrate her son Hans'' completion of kindergarten but felt the ceremony should have been a more age-appropriate party. "I would have been happy with just a slideshow and a potluck, maybe some awards for all the kids," Christine says. "Don't get me wrong, I don't mind celebrating at the end of a school year, but the cap and gown was a bit much."

Today it seems that every transition in our kids' education must be marked by ceremony and ritual. You name it, we celebrate it. It's understandable to want to celebrate your kid's achievements, but if you find yourself hiring a caterer and fire jugglers for your daughter's graduation from lacrosse camp or culmination from traffic school, you may have crossed a line.

While most parents support the spirit of these graduation ceremonies, some are starting to question how appropriate it is to treat the end of kindergarten or preschool with such pomp and significance.

Mike, father of three, thinks that formal graduation ceremonies create a sense of entitlement in kids. Mike says, "We set expectations in the minds of the kid that they're going to get this treatment every year. It's tough for kids to put [graduation ceremonies] in perspective." When Mike's daughter finished playing the last soccer game of the season, she asked him why he didn't bring her flowers. "I was like, how about some pizza and a high five?" Mike says, laughing.

Mike's family received a formal invitation (in school colors) to his nephew's kindergarten graduation at a private school. When they arrived, the school cafeteria was decorated in an Over the Rainbow motif. His nephew wore a mortarboard cap and gown (also in school colors) over a suit and tie, and looked thoroughly uncomfortable as he posed for a professional photographer.

After marching into the room to "Pomp and Circumstance," as cameras flashed, the kids sang America the Beautiful. "They had a keynote speaker. He talked for like ten minutes," Mike groans. The kids sang more songs, followed by a slick music video/slideshow, and then the diploma ceremony. All the girls got flowers and all the guests got food. "The only thing they were missing was fireworks."

When ambitious schools and proud parents join forces they can transform a humble children's celebration into a Class 5 Big Deal. It begs the question: are cap and gown ceremonies for kindergartners held for the benefit of the children or the parents?

"I think it's a nice photo op for the parents, something for the scrapbook," says Denise, a public school teacher who used to teach kindergarten. "They like to dress the kids up. It's very important for some families, and that's OK."

She adds with a smile, "Teachers like it, too. It gives us a sense of closure."

But instead of graduation ceremonies, Denise now holds "year end celebration" parties for the 3rd graders she teaches. She stresses that the celebrations are low-key affairs that are sensitive to kids who may be retained for another year and don't require the parents to spend a lot of money. Her class has a slideshow, sings songs, and all the kids get fun crayon-colored certificates.

Denise says, "You get the best of both worlds" with more casual graduation activities. "It's a great way to wrap up the year and celebrate" but doesn't turn the end of every school year into a formal rite of passage.

"The kids like it, too," Denise says. "And isn't that the important thing?"

David Campbell is a Seattle-area humorist and creator of the comic blog Dave's Long Box. He has two little girls who look really cute in homemade graduate cap

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