Walk into most local elementary and high schools today, and you probably won’t hear much of anything. The school year closed in most places this week, and the campus grounds are, more than likely, pretty quiet.
But if, just a few days ago, you had been around the places where our youngsters learn, you might have heard something a little different: the announcement of names from a front-stage microphone, followed by waves of sustained applause. Besides graduation, the most glorious day on any school calendar, educators also closed the academic year, as they always do, with a host of banquets and recitals and programs aimed at honoring what their students had achieved.
About the problems in education, you already know. They dominate each day’s headlines, a routine dose of doom and gloom. But it’s heartening, in spite of those challenges, to be reminded that we still close each school year with applause, a hearty ovation for the distance that young minds have managed to travel from the close of one summer to the beginning of another one.
All of this came to mind last week as my wife and I joined other parents at a ceremony to mark the end of our son’s fifth-grade year. His grade included 75 students, which translated, by my rough estimate, into at least 200 awards or citations of one sort or another to recognize what the children had accomplished.
Parenthood, I have learned, involves a lot of clapping — not only for your own son or daughter, but for their friends, team members and classmates who do well. The palms and forearms can get a little tired by the middle of a little league game, commencement or performance; the applause can taper off as parental stamina lags. But the duty remains to put our hands together for some young heart waiting to be filled with the acclamation of an audience, for a boy or girl who needs to know we’re cheering for them.
At my son’s program, a young man crossed the stage to be recognized by the school librarian for the progress he’d made as a reader. The librarian explained the obstacles the student had faced — and his perseverance in pressing on. From the back of the room, an admiring adult — perhaps it was the boy’s father — rose from his seat in a surge of emotion, clapping and shouting with an enthusiasm normally reserved for sporting arenas when the home team scores. If more of us lavished as much applause on young readers as we do on professional athletes, I thought to myself, then literacy scores across our city would probably skyrocket.
Another student, a young woman, took her turn in the spotlight for the progress she’d made from a lackluster and indifferent student into a learner of great promise. Clapping, then clapping some more, I sensed myself rising to my feet, as if levitated by the moment. Looking around me, I saw other parents standing, too, also lifted by the wave of acclaim sweeping the room.
Our clapping cost us nothing. But maybe, or so I hoped, the young folks on the stage would remember it forever.
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