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Darrell Huckaby - 05/20/09

It's graduation time in Georgia. You want to talk about a pandemic! Senioritis has been running rampant in high schools from sea to shining sea since the week before spring break. Yard signs dot neatly mowed yards throughout suburbia and deals are being brokered for extra graduation tickets that would make the biggest tycoon on Wall Street squeamish.

Next week will be awash with big parties, and solemn ceremonies will take place in football stadiums and gymnasiums, and a few civic centers and mega-churches, from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light.

I made you laugh when I said "solemn ceremonies," didn't I? If not, you probably haven't been to a high school graduation recently. Let me enlighten you.

We take our graduating seniors and make a big deal of the fact that they have navigated the academic waters for 12 or 13 years without sinking, being capsized, or thrown overboard. We dress them up in academic regalia (interpretation: caps and gowns) and have them march regally into the aforementioned stadium, gymnasium, civic center or mega-church, as refrains of "Pomp and Circumstance" fill the air.

"Pomp and Circumstance." The very name of the traditional graduation march should give you some clue that the ceremony should be conducted with a degree of decorum that is worthy of the accomplishments that are being celebrated. The whole thing is about academia and cerebral accomplishments. The students have completed one phase of their formal education and are about to embark on a new, more treacherous voyage. Some will sail away to college, others to the Armed Forces and still others into oblivion - but they all share a common bond on this one night. They have met the requirements set forth by the state of Georgia to be verified and certified as bonifide high school graduates.

And then we fill the seats in the stadium - or gymnasium or civic center or mega-church - with mothers and fathers and grandparents and other relatives, and a few friends who were close enough to the graduate to procure a ticket - and a small percentage of those people act like jasinapes (which is a word my mama used because she was too polite to say "jackass"), turning the whole affair into a cross between a circus and goat roping and ruining the dignity and solemnity of the occasion for the rest of us.

When did it start getting like this?

I graduated from Newton County High School, almost 40 years ago. The boys wore blue robes, the girls wore white, everyone was on their best behavior and our mamas and daddies were proud of us. Mr. Homer Sharp handed out the diplomas. He instructed everybody to hold their applause until every name had been called, and you can bet your bottom that everyone held their applause until every name had been called.

Well, there was a little bit of an outburst when Gerald "Snuffy" Fuller got his diploma, but other than that ...

Homer Sharp would roll over in his grave if he knew what goes on at graduation ceremonies these days.

People get all dressed up in their Sunday best and file into the various venues - aren't you glad I didn't say stadiums, gymnasiums, civic centers or mega-churches again - carrying air horns and whistles and all manner of noise makers. I have actually seen grown women lugging milk jugs full of pennies into graduation - and when the principal, or designated name-caller, starts reading the names of the honorees the people start screaming like banshees and jumping up and down and shaking their jugs - the ones filled with pennies, that is - and generally, well, like I said before, acting like jasinapes.

I, for one, find the whole thing disgraceful. Who can blame the kids for tossing around beach balls or failing to pay attention when the grown people in the stands are acting like fools.

I have often spoken with Benson Plunkett, the first-ever principal of Heritage High School, about the demise of the modern graduation ceremony. Benson always says the same thing.

"We graduated in the gym. I would always start out by telling them that after we were through we would let down the goals and clear out the seats and bring the best basketball player in the class out on the floor and he could dunk the ball and they could whoop and holler and act like wild Indians if they wanted to. And then I would tell them that while the ceremony was going on they were all going to act like somebody - whether they were somebody or not - and that we were going to give the graduating seniors the dignity and respect they deserved.

"And then we would have our ceremony, and after we were finished we would have 2,000 Coca-Colas poured and waiting on everybody in the commons area - and we never had a single problem. Not one."

Those were the days. As I said, it's graduation time in Georgia, and if you are attending a ceremony, please try to heed Benson Plunkett's instructions. While you are acting like a jackass somebody else is missing the opportunity to hear their child's name called.

I'm not as polite as my mama.

Darrell Huckaby