Celebrating a Broad Array of Accomplishments


The following column originally was published in several APG of East Central Mn newspapers during May, 2023.  This includes the Morrison County Record

Celebrating a broad array of accomplishments


Here’s a question and a hope about how, in the next month, Minnesota high schools celebrate graduates. Having participated in graduations as a student, father, educator and speaker, I’ve seen many different approaches to this event. The ones that are most meaningful are those that celebrate a variety of accomplishments.

So my question: Will schools take the opportunity to acknowledge and honor a variety of accomplishments? Here’s how this has been done.

Most high schools celebrate academic accomplishment – naming students with the highest grade point averages. Many high schools give the student with the very highest GPA the opportunity to speak at graduation. High grades are one form of success, and students who earn these do deserve recognition.

But what about students who have excelled in other ways? Some graduation ceremonies feature displays of outstanding painting, sculpture and other forms of art. Some schools display award-winning writing. Some include, around the gym or auditorium where graduation takes place, pictures and explanations of animals that some students raised. Some show examples of outstanding community service. Others feature welding, woodwork and other technical accomplishments.

I remember meeting with students last year who had been active in their schools’ FFA (Future Farmers of America) program. They received statewide recognition for some of their projects. But they recounted, sadly, that the school gave extensive recognition to students who excelled in some sports, but ignored their accomplishments. “Don’t we matter?” they asked.

Of course they do. And recognition at graduation doesn’t need to be “either or.” It can be inclusive.

Part of that can be a recognition that every one of this year’s graduates endured and persevered through a special, historic challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minnesota wisely offers dozens of ways for young people to be recognized. The terrific, free publication “Reach for the Stars” describes a vast array of programs and competitions in which young people can develop and demonstrate skills and knowledge. Compiled by the Synergy and Leadership Exchange, it’s found here.

An online resource reports the word “graduate” comes from the Latin word, “gradus” – which means “a step.”

Graduates are taking a big step into the world. As this happens, educators can give young people and families positive, important messages: Your skill, talent and hard work are acknowledged and appreciated. That’s a great way to end the school year.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: joe@centerforschoolchange.org.