Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Party's Over

Graduation is a mere seven weeks away. And, in case any of us have let that slip our minds, my daughter's school just issued a letter about it. A five-page letter. A five-page "refrigerator letter," so named because they are asking us to post it prominently in our homes. And, with a teenager in the house, what could be a more prominent position than ... you guessed it ... the refrigerator.

(After all, that's where the orange soda and chocolate chip cookie dough live.)

To the authors' credit, the letter did start out with a few words of congratulations: "with great anticipation of their bright futures." It then walked us through all of the senior activities scheduled for the coming weeks. From the mandatory (their underline, not mine) parents meeting, through the annual carnival, Senior Art Show, prom, white water rafting trip, up until the big day itself.

This is useful information and I will, indeed, post said letter (or, at the very least, tuck it into my desk planner). I appreciate knowing what's going on. Really, I do.

My issue is with the tone.

After those extremely succinct words of celebration, the letter quickly became a long list of all the terrible things our teenagers might do which would preclude their graduating along with their peers. Here, in no particular order, are just some of the potential (it truly feels like they're anticipated) crimes and misdemeanors:

• Not passing a course
• Not returning a library book
• Not paying senior dues
• Not serving detentions
• Not returning a sports uniform
• Not cleaning out a locker

• Not turning in the "Post-Graduation Plan" sheet
• Not settling up any cafeteria charges

That's a lot of "Not."

There are also things that students might not not do (in other words, do) that would result in graduation expulsion. These include:

• Being in possession of alcohol
• Being in possession of drugs
• Being in possession of tobacco ...
• Or of "related paraphernalia"

(All of the above get them kicked out of prom as well as kept away from graduation.)

Then, there are other mandatory get-togethers: graduation rehearsal ("all seniors must attend!") and a "mandatory safety procedure preparation meeting" for anyone going white water rafting.

And, finally, students are warned that "No flip-flops or sneakers will be allowed" at commencement itself. This particular outrage holds a less severe penalty. The offender will merely be sent home to change. (Phew!)

Oh, and don't get me started on the fact that they suggested that girls wear dresses or skirts.

What is this? 1961?

Nevertheless, I know that safety has to come first (or at least right after making sure you return your sports uniform and any library books). But, rather than talk quite so much about "setting up clear boundaries and meaningful consequences," I wish they would give our kids the benefit of the doubt. Yes, spell it all out, but maybe also acknowledge that our students have worked hard and — for the most part — behaved like responsible young adults thus far. I don't think words like "violation" really need to be used quite so much.

Then again, they did offer an idea for a mother-daughter activity. They pointed out that "Students should be able to say 'no thanks' if offered alcohol or drugs or tobacco." My daughter happened to be hanging out in my office when I read the letter, so I suggested we role play.

"Here, little girl," I sneered like the Wolf in Into the Woods, "Have some alcohol or drugs or tobacco."


"You're supposed to say, 'No thank you,'" I prompted.

"No. Thank. You."

Well. My work here is done.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.     

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