I attended my son Braden’s Pre-K graduation on Thursday. Some of you are probably saying, “What! a Pre-K graduation!.” I suppose I would have been saying the same thing not too long ago. Events like Pre-K graduation, Kindergarten graduations, and 5th grade graduations are often considered “cute” or “fun” at best and may get filed as an inconvenient waste of time at worst. After all, they’re not a REAL graduation, right?
Of course, that begs the question: “What’s a REAL graduation?” I think that the traditional high school and college graduations often get credited as authentic because in the past they meant that school was over. Done. No more classes. Time to get on with REAL life. Get a REAL job. However, nowadays we know that it’s frequently not the case that school ends with graduation and that the REAL job doesn’t always come when we hope it will. In fact, career development experts these days will tell you that to remain competitive you’ll probably change careers several times and go back to school for retraining, continuing ed, or a complete switch at least once if not more.
These changes in the career landscape have actually helped highlight the nature of graduations as a rite of passage, which is really what they were all along. Rites of passage help us mark the moving from one stage in life to another. They’re important for cultures, families and individuals. In fact, psychology and traditional medicine have realized the negative consequences of missing these passages which can manifest in people feeling lost, drifting, and without a grounded sense of identity. Sometimes people don’t feel like they can truly enter in and be successful where they are at because they haven’t felt that sense of passage from a previous identity or stage into the next. Usually we aren’t conscious of how this works for us, but the very fact that humans have ALWAYS throughout history celebrated and ritualized passage should give us a clue that it’s very important.
Which brings us to the Pre-K graduation. The teachers at Lake Ridge Childcare did a wonderful job of making a fun program in which each child was honored, got to show off a little bit, be on stage, wear a special Pre-K graduate T-shirt and black mortarboard with tassel, have some food (traditional Minnesota pot-luck style) and be recognized by their community and families. It had all of the elements of a well designed traditional rite of passage and many of the families invited extended family to participate. In our case, it occurred to me that we had aunties, uncles and cousins from both sides of the family as well as grandparents, which made it a truly multi-generational crowd.
Since I’ve seen and experienced how rites of passage and lack thereof can get stamped into our psyche and DNA, I have no doubt that this was significant for Braden and will help him to move on from “little kid” to the “school-age” stage of his journey. I made sure to intentionally identify this for him with a “Dad Talk.” We didn’t mark it with any ritual wounding or by giving him a tattoo (although he probably would have loved it if we had inked the Autobots symbol on his forehead), but we did give him gifts of big-boy toys: superhero Lego sets. No more Duplos, those are for little kids.