Last week I attended the inaugural graduation of the KIPP San Francisco College Prep High School one day after the 20th anniversary of my own high school graduation. I think it’s safe to say things have really changed. First, let me say that it does indeed feel like I’ve been out of high school for 20 years. When my best friend from high school recently reminded me of this historic occasion, I texted back:”Unlike the 10 and 15 yr anniversaries, this one feels realistic to me. Lol–like I feel young enough but I know my ass ain’t that young anymore.” Chalk that up to increasing joint tenderness and my ignorance of most artists to which “the children” as I call them, pledge their allegiance. Suffice it to say, there were many differences between my high school graduation and theirs. To name a few:
- These graduates did not have to wait 24 hours at best (if you were a big baller and you had the money and time to get overnight photo printing) to see the photos from their big day. Hell, I don’t even think my family owned a digital camera at the time, although I believe they existed in 1997. Last week’s show, hotel, and afterparty were Instagrammed, Facebook Lived, and Snapchatted within an inch of its life.
- SO. MUCH. SWAG. All that adorned my gown was honor cords and I was quite proud of those measly little strings. Not these kids nowadays. Hair was done, nails were done, everything BIG…including BIG HEADS! Yes, parents were waving HUGE face cut outs of their children on sticks! They also had legs for days–candy leis, flower leis, money leis (including one where the money was origami-ed into the shape of a weed plant), honor cords, ethnic stoles and sashes and huge individual letter balloons spelling out their names. I blame capitalism and the insidious rise of kindergarten and elementary school graduations for this. Years ago when I worked at another charter school in DC–this one an elementary school, I couldn’t wrap my head around the need for literal graduations for elementary school kids. Like Chris Rock said, “You’re SUPPOSED TO” finish elementary school!!! I was shocked to see independent “bruh-mans” pull up outside with carts of flowers and balloons then, but I could have never guessed how far it would eventually go.
- I love the new-ish trend of decorating your cap. It shows individuality in a ceremony that demands conformity. I shared a room with the art teacher and some of these kids definitely put more effort into their caps than any of their art projects. There was bedazzling, family tributes, Fifth Harmony lyrics, Star Wars references and even Ewok ears. During prom season, most of the boys cajoled one of their intended date’s friends to make prom-posal signs for them. I wondered how many of these caps were also outsourced.
- Speaking of decoration, I would have never been able to keep up with today’s performative requirements of femininity. False eyelashes, perfectly shaped, shaded or drawn-on eyebrows, nail art, weaves and pounds of paint masquerading as makeup. And how could I forget the shoes! I feel like shoes with heels over 3 inches would’ve been banned from my graduation although I honestly don’t think anyone would have even considered wearing them. Nowadays, it’s a heel fashion show–platform heels, stilettos, and gladiator stilettos. Between all their decorative accouterments weighing them down and their towering heels, I was afraid some girls wouldn’t make it across the stage. Luckily no ankles were harmed.
- Hands down my favorite thing about the students at KIPP SF are their close bonds. They truly are a family. They call each other sister and brother and their upper-class kin mother, father, grandma and grandpa and they mean it. Affectionate, heartfelt hugs are as ubiquitous in the school as hot Cheetos and chili lime chicken ramen noodles, and graduation day was no exception. My core group of high school friends dissolved by my first summer home from college. I don’t see that happening here. Then again, they have many more options to stay in touch. When I started college, I was one of the few people with my own cell phone (Thanks, Dad) and Facebook was still just under a decade away.
High school graduations are a special time, a modern cultural rite of passage. Despite the 20 year difference, what remained the same was the hope, excitement, and anticipation of freedom promised as a reward for one’s hard work. Congratulations Class of 2017–you did it! Welcome to the rest of your lives. Have fun and pay attention. 20 years will be gone before you know it.
Shanna K Houser Freelance writer
BS: Penn State-MA: Sofia University