The three mega-parties that mark the end of the year at my day job have come and gone. Wednesday we had a morning and evening party, and yesterday we had the second morning party.
The celebrations are very simple. Each class comes to the stage and gets certificates honoring their work. Attendance awards are given out and the Student of Merit, elected by his or her classmates, is given an award. Mixed in with all that are awards for people who became citizens during the year and performances by individual or groups of students. At the end, the GED graduates march in caps and gowns, and then I congratulate everyone, give the teachers and staff thank you gifts and we eat all the fabulous food the students have brought.
I love these parties. And not just for the food. I love seeing the classes hanging out together, seeing the closeness that has grown over the school year. I love the teachers’ speeches as they present their classes. I love the student performances. I love seeing all the family members who come out in support. And yes, I love the food. Our students know how to throw down in the kitchen. Srsly.
Highlights from this year’s parties? Jairo, the lovely elderly man in our Spanish literacy class, singing an a capella love song. Pat, an evening GED student, reading a poem and stopping our applause at the end to say, “I’m not done yet,” and reading another one. The unfathomably big tres leches cake one student brought in (oh, it was too good). Gustavo, one of our Saturday students, playing his guitar and singing two ballads. The Russian ladies from the English classes at the senior center singing three Russian songs and a heartfelt God Bless America. Svetlana, the service coordinator from the senior center, introducing the choir and each song and wagging her finger at the audience and commanding, “Now pay attention to us.”
I love everything about our celebrations, but there are a few true heartstrings moments for me. When our GED grads march in their caps and gowns, it is the most fantastic thing. My heart gets very big and very full, and it’s anyone’s guess if I’m going to cry.
When students tell us they’ve passed the GED, we are happy and excited and we congratulate them, and we tell them to keep June in mind so they can come back and march. Some — both students and staff — kind of pass it off, but I really talk it up. I’m a big fan of ritual and the value of symbols (well, you know, the ones I like …), and there’s something really special and important about getting to march in your cap and gown, hearing Pomp and Circumstance, having people acknowledge your achievement in a big, formal way, moving your tassel from right to left, throwing your cap and cheering. These are small things that aren’t at all small. These are students who’ve had to work very hard for this credential, people for whom the GED diploma will literally open new doors. And it’s important for the students who haven’t gotten their GEDs yet. For the Basic Ed, Pre-GED and GED students who want this thing so badly, it’s an inspiration. For the ESOL students who know they eventually need to move into GED class but for whom the GED feels very far away, it’s the symbol of the end of this particular journey.
This is big, this is important.
So yes, we spent the money for a supply of caps and gowns, we spend the money every year for new tassels with the graduating year on them, we make the effort to get grads to come back for the June ceremony.
After all that, I have to say that we have, at my day job , a very tiny GED program. Only five classes out of our 30+ class schedule, and only two of those are GED prep classes. So it’s a lot of fuss for the not very many people who move through our program each year. But this year we had more grads than ever before: seventeen grads! Half again as many as last year, nearly twice as many as the year before. Of those grads, nine were able to come to the ceremony (and one, who moved to Maryland almost the second after he got his diploma, called when he got his invitation and updated us on his progress — thanks, N___!).
We honor the grads just before the end of the party. I make a sappy speech about what a big deal it is to pass the test, what a hard test it is and how hard people have to work to get through it. Then we turn on the music and the grads enter from the back of the room and march up to the stage … to the cheers and raucous applause of the crowd. It’s really wonderful. I think most of the grads don’t even realize what a big deal it will be or how special it will feel until they see how excited everyone else is for them. We do the tassel bit — to more cheers and applause — and then position them for a good photo op for the tossing of their caps … and yes, more cheers and applause. It makes me so happy.
And then we eat and take pictures and there’s a lot of hugging and kissing and reassuring people that the letters for summer classes will go out next week … and then it’s all done. Whew!
The party for my night job is next week. It’s very different from the show we put on at my day job … no caps and gowns, no pomp and not a whole lot of circumstance. It’s a fun time, just with a very different flavor.