Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

The Family Room by Michelle Martin


We had two graduations to go to this year.

One was my nephew’s college graduation— the first of his generation in our family. We made the road trip to Peoria with Tony’s parents—Matt’s grandparents—and enjoyed his hospitality at a backyard barbecue the evening before the big event.

The other was a more intimate affair, Frank’s kindergarten graduation.

Instead of a public sports arena, the ceremony was held in a parish auditorium and multipurpose room. The speakers were not political figures; they were elementary school administrators and kindergarten teachers. The graduates were not so much exhorted to follow their dreams as celebrated for learning to follow the rules.

Their dreams were in evidence, of course. The graduation program listed what each of them wants to be when they grow up. The answers ranged from the improbable professional sports careers to the high-aiming marine biologists to the animal-loving veterinarians.

But more than any other future career, the students said they want to grow up to be teachers. That’s a high compliment to Mrs. Charlton and Mrs. Gabianelli, the two kindergarten teachers at the school.

The two of them won the hearts of their students while developing their minds, teaching the correct way to form the letter “R” as well as how to treat one another with respect and caring.

I don’t know if Matt remembers his kindergarten graduation—I didn’t start dating his uncle until the following year—but I do remember his brother’s. It was remarkably similar to Frank’s, down to the cloth mortarboards worn without gowns.

The children stood on stage, sang a few songs, watched a slide show of themselves, and were called up one by one to receive their diplomas. Afterwards, everyone was invited to have a cup of juice, a piece of cake or a cookie, and prepare to move on.

College graduation was much the same, really, only on a grander (and longer) scale.

Instead of about 40 names to call, there were nearly 900. Instead of the whole program taking an hour (counting the time to cut the cake), it took half a day. But if graduations really are commencements, kindergarten graduation felt like a beginning: the beginning of an academic career with many commencements to come. College graduations might be the beginning of a new phase of life, but they are also the end of an old one.

In these days, the transition from kindergarten to first grade might not seem so big. Frank’s kindergarten already was in school all day, and indeed shared the lunchroom with their first- and second-grade schoolmates.

The curriculum went far beyond the ABCs and the colors of the rainbow to reading, addition and subtraction and the anatomy of an insect.

But kindergarten is still different from the number grades, and first grade is still a big step up. Then again, Matt’s considering law school … another big step. Congratulations, graduates.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].