graduation-capIt has been a few weeks now since my youngest sister’s high school graduation ceremony, giving me time to reflect on the event and its repercussions. The evening started off pleasant, catching up with former teachers and running into former classmates there to celebrate their younger siblings. The night got interesting, however, after the ceremony began and students lined up to walk across the stage to receive their diploma.

My last name is mid-alphabet so I was not necessarily planning to pay close attention until it was my sister’s turn. Well, once the students’ names were called and they started that nerve-wracking trek across the stage, I could not look away. Nor could I ignore the effect of the way the principal read the names of each senior.

Jake Abbot*: summa cum laude, college ready

Becky Albert*:  magna cum laude, college and career ready

Carrie Allen*: SILENCE

Kyle Arnold*: career ready

That silence immediately broke my heart. I could imagine myself on my graduation day excited to finally be finished with testing and end-of-the-year projects, walking across that stage ready to accept my diploma as a sentiment to the hard work I’d done for the past twelve years. The happiest moment and greatest achievement of many young adults’ lives is receiving their diploma, which means they’re ready for the real world. But then, in the case of this particular graduation ceremony, to find out that in fact they are actually NOT ready for college or a career.

At first, I felt pain for those kids who had silence after their names. Then I immediately began to question the school and the entire education system. Who is deeming these kids as college or career ready? How can a kid be ready for college but not a career, and vice versa? And on a broader level: WHY are we graduating kids who are not ready for those important next steps after graduation that make them into productive citizens of Kentucky? I wondered how the principal and the superintendent could sit there and allow what seemed like half of the graduating class walk across the stage without the knowledge, tools, and skills needed to be considered college or career ready; the audacity they had to flaunt that low-achievement of the school and of our education system in general.

I would like to add that my reaction towards this event stems from my passion of being a child advocate. It also comes from my role as a protective big sister. I knew as soon as I heard the names being read with their achievements—or lack thereof—that my little sister would be one with silence following her name. She has learning disabilities that ultimately impact her tests scores and social skills, but that in absolutely no way means that she has no future beyond high school graduation. In fact, Mr. Principal and Mr. Superintendent, my sister has interviewed for a part-time job and was recently accepted into a program at a university that will tailor curriculum to her learning needs.

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be an alum of my high school, and I will note that it is one of the best in the state. On this particular night, though, I could not have been more disappointed. Are we so obsessed with appearance and test scores that now, on one of the happiest days of high school students’ lives, we are categorizing success and failure based only on academic achievement? Do we just ignore the fact that seemingly half of Kentucky’s recent graduates are not considered ready for work or for furthering their education? And, most importantly, what in the world are we going to do about it?

*Names changed to protect confidentiality.