Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

June 21, 2013

'The Graduate - Again and Again'

By Charlotte Shivvers
The Journal Express

---- — That title, “The Graduate,” brings memories of a beautiful tree-lined stretch of highway south of San Francisco where the Dustin Hoffman movie hero rode a desperate ride to claim his bride.

Now I’ve reached the stage of grandparenting where many, less-hazardous graduations are happening. Last year was the first eighth-grade graduation we attended – amazing for the green gowns and caps that kept slipping. I felt happy and challenged, “How can I be as close to this ninth grader as I once was to her when she was three?”

I’m challenged with more graduations this year. My husband was a real trooper and went to California for graduations of two grandsons – one eighth grade and one high school – and for the high school graduation of a stepgranddaughter-to-be. Then we met in Seattle for the graduation of a grandson from eighth grade.

I missed the first three but was most sorry to miss the one where the students had been asked for a personal thought to share – and those came on, recorded, at the graduation. Of course we liked it because this young woman said she was happy that her mother’s marriage would bring her into our son’s family! The one graduation I attended was special in that it was totally planned by the students themselves, with only one brief adult appearance on stage. Very impressive.

The most special part of these graduations for me is that they mark a new stage, a new opportunity, in my relationship with the grandchild. That has not been my strong suit. I have a hunch that many of you are in graduation season now, too, and may face the same challenge.

Graduations were big in my family because education was big. For my mother it was a given that we would all go to college. My father, however, claimed that he couldn’t remember whether he got to second grade or sixth grade at Sunnyside Country School. After his death, my mother and many leaders at Iowa State College/University agreed that since he’d been an agriculture leader it would be appropriate to have an ag lectureship there in his name (especially since he’d earned the money to fund it).

That’s President Obama’s “American Dream” isn’t it? That, in our country, someone who confused sixth grade and second grade, could work and do so well that he/she would be honored by a university? I’m lucky because in my family both my parents worked hard to give us the basics for that. My father’s favorite educational instruction was an emphatic “Use your head!”

In our quest for better education we could probably do no better than to develop systems that inspire and equip students to find and use their own heads. Graduations attempt to inspire that. Of my four, it was the one from Sunnyside that gave me words for it. Graduation from the rural school students that year was at Knoxville’s Methodist Church. I remember I wore a new white dress, and I remember the speaker’s closing words, “When you stop learning, you’re dead!”

So, hoping not to be “dead” before I’m really dead, I attempt to continue to learn. And that’s why the special times, the growing relationships, with all the young graduates in my family are so important. I wish I could take them each down that tree-lined roadway south of San Francisco!