Many years ago, when my son was still in fifth grade, he sheepishly invited me to his graduation ceremony. I was a little confused by this invitation, as I did not participate in a 5th grade graduation ceremony as a child. In my day, we simply moved on to 6th Grade. Then again, unlike today's Public Schools, the Sisters of St. Joseph were never known to frivolously massage a student's egos.
Anyway, I told my son, "It would be my pleasure" to take the day off from work (and trust seven public school dropouts not to kill themselves or anyone else until I got to the job-site) to attend his fifth grade graduation ceremony.
On the day of the graduation ceremony, the Elementary School cafeteria had been transformed into more of an auditorium. Standard stack chairs set out in rows replaced the cafeteria tables with one aisle dividing them leading up to a makeshift stage the school used for plays and assemblies.
Looking around the room, I could not help but notice the themed banners all over the walls. I had seen them before, scrawled calls for tolerance and go along and get along slogans about fair play and being nice or fair to everyone.
Did I mention that the Principal and her staff would scatter when I entered the building? Nevertheless, I digress.
As more and more people began to fill the room, I saw many I knew. Many of the boys knew me from Cub Scouts or Football and stopped by to say hello. It was always nice. To them I was always Mr. DeMayo. To their little brothers, most too young for scouts or football, I was Mr. Tomato.
This Texas Public School was no different from any other. Over half the students were Hispanic. Over a quarter were black with the balance of the student population mostly White with a little bit of Asian.
The ceremony was presented in three languages. English, Spanish and they had someone signing for those that were hearing-impaired.
I thought this was going to be a simple thing, in and out. Cameras were flashing. Video's videoing and me, I am getting pissed. I have things to do. My phone is vibrating and I want out now!
Well, it was an "everybody gets a trophy" occasion with every student who managed to move on to six grade (300 of them) walking the length of the cafeteria to the stage and accepting a graduation pin from the Principal. Then came the Valedictorian Award given to the cute Nigerian girl who could not speak English or sign (Woosah, Woosah) followed by the last round of awards, the "President's Awards."
The President's Award is given to students who achieved three consecutive semesters of straight A's and three consecutive semesters of commendable state test (TAKS) scores.
I was surprised and confused to see that the cute non-English speaking Nigerian Valedictorian was not called up to receive a President's Award. However, all that frustration and phone vibrating melted away when I heard my son's name called and he walked up (hair high and tight) on stage (followed by 3 Asian boys and 4 Asian girls) to receive his certificate for being one of 8 (among 300 kids) to meet the highest educational standard for Elementary level students in America. I had no idea he was getting an academic award. I knew what his grades were. Again, back in my day, we never got awards.
After the ceremony, my son walked over with his certificate and his pin in hand. I asked him, "Do you wanted to stay for the juice and cookies or would you rather Dad take you out to lunch." He replied, "I want to go to lunch with you, Dad."
As we shuffled our feet, stuck behind all the other parents and kids headed toward to lobby exit, I looked down at him and said, "I'm proud of you." He looked up at me, a look of disappointment spreading across his 10-year-old face and said, "It's not a big deal Dad."
My mind raced. I had no idea why he was so dissatisfied with his scholarly prize. As a parent, I wanted him to understand, I wanted him to feel good. I wanted him to set aside that liberal indoctrination they spread in public school about feeling guilty for succeeding and I had no idea why he was so displeased.
Excitedly, I said, "Oh, yes it is, this is how the school rewards people who work hard and succeed. Only 8 kids in your entire graduating class received the President's Award."
He stopped me, touched my arm and looked up at me and responded "Yeah dad I know, but it's signed by Barrack Obama."
What could I say? I took the rest of the day off and spent it with my son; one of the best days of my life. It was 2009. He was 10.
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