• Merriam-Webster offers two definitions…
    1: an act, instance, or time of commencing:  to enter upon, begin.
    2: the ceremonies or the day for conferring degrees or diplomas.
    For the purpose of this “Why” paper, ours will merge the two…  A ceremony to acknowledge those who’ve completed their journey and arrived at the beginning.
    “Arrive at the beginning”…  wait a minute, does this qualify as one of those, “jumbo shrimp, clearly confused, deafening silence, cruel to be kind, virtual reality, awfully good, only choice, original copy, alone together” oxymorons?
    Across the United States, there are an estimated 3.35 million high school seniors who will turn their tassel and arrive at their beginning.  A milestone for certain and one which by design, captures a transition of sorts toward greater independence, a promise of opportunity and a vision of a bright future.  Hopefully, the educational experiences along the journey have included an intentional effort to prepare and pursue a purpose along with a possible career path. Hence, the most often asked question of the graduate, “What do you intend to do after high school?”
    Without doubt, the answers typically fall into one of several categories.  The same is true for the level of enthusiasm and/or anxiety displayed. Thankfully, most are equipped with either a plan or the workings of one.  There are those who’ve earned and/or been presented opportunities for post-secondary education at universities, community colleges, trade schools and the like.  A handful who’ve chosen to join a branch of the military. Some who will simply extend their hours at work while others are actively seeking employment. Finally, and despite collective urgings to plan, there remain a few who claim they’ve given it little thought or appear to have put little to no energy into what is to follow.
    Regardless, a day in May contains the moment our Belton High School graduates assemble to “commence.”  We acknowledge them and rejoice along with them, their classmates and their families for the journey they’ve/we’ve shared culminates in closing a significant chapter. Current data suggests the average life expectancy is 78.6 years of which four is spent in high school. Simple math reveals the experience represents a mere five percent of our lifetime, yet, we observe people across generations speak of their life experiences and the time frame in question typically consumes far greater than the five percent of the conversation.  The impact of these four years on relationships forged, opportunities presented and the “persons we become” is real.
    For a number of explanations, not all who enter the school experience as a part of the cohort will arrive at “Destination Beginning.”  Some will have fallen short and stake claim at a later date and will qualify as those who’ve simply not arrived “yet.” Efforts to coax, encourage, and offer requests through some divine intervention do continue…  simply because the data affiliated with the piece of paper which signifies arrival suggests it has value beyond its weight. Furthermore, the symbolic nature of having satisfied requirements and completed the task, regardless of the difficulty of the journey, represents a degree of perseverance most wish to find in themselves and others.  Again, the data suggests “completers” are rewarded. Certainly, the nature and extent of post-secondary experiences contribute to even greater possibilities to those who elect to continue with some formal training.
    Others may “mic drop” and say, “I’m out.”  Though their journey may not include “finishing the high school race” and the ceremony part of “Commencement” will not apply.  Without the designation of “high school graduate,” their journey will certainly continue. However, one could reasonably predict there to be some limitations with regard to the range of opportunities afforded them. Naturally, we continue to wish them well and, to the extent possible and/or requested, offer our support.  Frequently, there are those who, through tragedy, had their journey end much too soon. Their family members, friends, and the community were forced to attempt to reconcile why the loved ones were taken from them at such a young age. Mourning the loss and celebrating the respective lives occurred on earlier dates, yet, we acknowledge the holidays, birthdays and the arrival of anticipated milestones produce reminders and the thoughts of unrealized dreams.  It is believed this applies to no fewer than five from the current cohort. Our model to provide an opportunity for remembrance involves a moment of silence during the ceremony and the graduates are also provided a special ribbon to wear as a tribute should they so choose.
    Why Commencement?   First and foremost, it is for those students who have successfully completed the requirements to earn their Belton High School diploma.  Additionally, it is about the very moment one has his/her name read over the public address system to signify a mission achieved and a fresh assignment to “commence” with something new.  It is about a specific moment in time when, as a member of a unique “Class,” he/she will join fellow graduates in the “turning of the tassel.”
    It is about the students…  but, it is also about the families, friends and the community coming together on a particular evening in celebration for and of our students.   In some ways, very similar to their date of birth, they are the center of attention and they have arrived at their beginning all over again.