Monday, May 16, 2016

A Tale of Two Class Nights

Friday night was Class Night for our daughter, who's about to graduate from high school. Our son is a rising college senior (How did that happen???) so his class night was three years ago. Neither my husband nor I went to it.

Understand that in our small town, bisected by the Tennessee/Virginia state line, we have exactly two high schools: Tennessee High and Virginia High. Because public education is primarily state-funded, these schools are wholly separate, the heads of two separate school systems.

My children went to the local Catholic school through 8th grade which happened to be on the Virginia side of the line, and thus we were on the Virginia school system schedule and never really paid attention to the Tennessee public school traditions. When my son started high school I relied on him to keep me informed. Hhe used this to his strong advantage. Throughout high school he had two goals: to do well enough to gain admittance into the University of Notre Dame, and to attend as many sporting events as possible. If it didn't contribute to those goals, forget it.

Now this was useful because his first goal made him an extremely motivated student. He signed up for tough classes, did his work, and did well. His second goal didn't cause me any problems either. But things I would have liked him to do (like, say, take the PSAT) tended to fall to the wayside. Instead of asking me, "Should I take the PSAT?" he asked himself, "Does the PSAT contribute to my admittance to Notre Dame? No? Then instead of spending a Saturday morning taking the PSAT, should I attend a sporting event instead? Why, yes!"

This is similar to the calculations my daughter made when she realized she could skip dressing out for swimming days in Freshman PE, take a '0' for those days, and still squeak by with the lowest possible A for the semester, thus protecting the 4.0 that would lead her to becoming co-valedictorian without ever once wearing a bathing suit or tipping a toe into the high school pool. I found out about that plan when I got her report card.

So when my son was about to graduate, I saw that there was something listed as Class Night in the school schedule. I inquired. It sounded important. Absolutely not, my son said. Class Night was simply some ridiculous antiquated tradition in which the senior class handed over the governance of the high school to the junior class, and while his attendance was required, mine was not. In fact he strongly urged me to stay home.

Now, my son wasn't lying, except by omission. There's a whole Class Night script that reads like a relic from the 1950s, in which the seniors present the juniors with the School Shield and the School Axes (not kidding), items which as far as I can tell are then stuffed into a closet until the next Class Night. At some point in the far distant past this ceremony may have had meaning for someone. It doesn't anymore.

However--and this is a really big however, more like a HOWEVER--Class Night is also senior awards night. My husband was off playing golf with a friend, and I was laying on the couch watching Shark Tank in my pjs drinking wine while my son was called down to the stage something like seven times to be honored for his academic success. I found this out the next morning, when my friends started to congratulate me. My son laughed and said, "Yeah, the principal said, 'Stand still so your parents can get a photo,' and I said, 'Yeah, my parents aren't here.'"

Yep. We were the Parents Who Couldn't Be Bothered.

Now my son still insists that he didn't care about any of it, and that while his attendance was mandatory ours was not. He does not seem to understand, despite our explaining it to him, multiple times, that we would have liked to have been present while he was repeatedly called to the stage.

It's possible that some of the school administrators noticed my husband's and my absence. I say this because last week I received an email from my daughter's homeroom teacher gently suggesting that we attend. Not that there was any danger of our skipping Class Night, now that we knew what it was. Also our daughter was the Mistress of Ceremonies, in charge of introducing each portion of the program.

So we went. And it was incredibly, excruciatingly slow. And long. Drawn out beyond reasonable belief. The seniors processed across the gym floor two by two under strict orders that each pair not begin walking until the previous pair had reached half court. The school band played "Pomp and Circumstance" on endless repeat. It was like the world's longest wedding processional. Twenty minutes of slow walking before anyone spoke at all.

Then every senior who got any type of scholarship was recognized. I'm all for that. However, when six kids get the same academic scholarship to the same state university, describe the scholarship and list the recipients. Do not bring every student forward individually and try to change the wording so that the audience doesn't realize it's exactly the same award as was just given. We, the audience, are smarter than that.

The best moment of the ceremony came when my daughter went to the podium, saw that someone had mistakenly carried away her script, and went one with the program so cleanly that almost no one realized she was ad-libbing. It took me years to learn that kind of poise in front of a crowd. The second best moment came when the principal solemnly announced that one student had had perfect attendance for all four years of high school. The principal held up a trophy, called the student's name--and the student wasn't there. She'd skipped Class Night.

I'm glad I didn't skip my second Class Night. It's the last chance I'll ever get. I still wish I'd seen my son through his--but, on the other hand, there's only so much with the Shield and Axes a parent can take. I won't regret that my first Class Night was also my last.