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Published by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation

Cohen: The remarkable lessons – and promises – of a high school graduation

Posted: 06/22/16 8:12am CST

It is the season of graduation. Curiously, we call the spring ceremony conferring degrees or diplomas “commencement.”

For students in high school, in particular, it is the anteroom to the next stage of life. For parents, though, commencement is an end. An end to secondary school. An end to adolescence, that award-winning psychodrama.

We think of what it took to get here. We recall the joys of geometry, understanding as Bing Crosby said in a different context, that “everyone has an angle.” We revisit the laws of physics, the dates of the European monarchs and the importance of the 1964 U.S. presidential election, as my son, Alexander, argued impressively in his capstone history essay.

We relive rehearsals for public speaking contests on the need for fire retardants in carpets, among other great issues. Slower! Clearer! Louder!

We recall papers sent electronically at two minutes to the (midnight) deadline, art projects gone wrong, driving tests flunked. We remember Friday-night skiing and threatened Saturday-morning detentions.

Our children surprise us. When my daughter, Rachel, who graduated last week, got high grades in math, it was a revelation given her father’s terrible performance in algebra. We considered a paternity test.

We remember, with gratitude, the teachers – a noble profession – in schools in different countries. We know them by their honorifics: Mr. D. and Madame Danielle, Frau Mattern and Herr Hutt.

There’s the extraordinary Mr. King, who taught my son and pushed him to compete in geography at the national and international levels, and brought Rachel to find confidence in her abilities. The stimulating Ms. Novick, who taught history and the passionate Mr. Simpson who taught drama. And Coach Beltrame, who made Grade 11 gym fun.

Forty-three years ago, when I graduated high school, I could not fathom the impact that my teachers would have on me. But Ed Maddox, David Webb, Harvey Morse and Tom Generous showed me a new world. We remain in touch.

I can only hope my children will recall their season in high school not as a time of angst – though angst there was – but joy and discovery. I hope they understand that it is less what they learned – those dates, tenses and conjugations – than that they learned how to learn. To be educated, yes, but to be educable.

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