Could I Have Flunked Kindergarten?

These reflections on Kindergarten graduation ceremonies have been published in the June 29 Sault Star.

I went to a kindergarten graduation, starring a couple of special grandkids, the other day and came home with mixed feelings.
No, my qualms weren’t because people in my age cohort are supposed to cut back on sugar and the kids’ graduation was about the sweetest thing anyone could imagine.

Getting down and dignified at the grad with William (Wilhelm) and his big brother Cameron, both bad influences on their grandfather.

I think my uneasiness arose because I can’t remember graduating from Kindergarten myself.
Now, you might suspect this is one of a gigantic pile of things, growing faster than a giant hogweed plant, that I have trouble remembering, afflicted as I am with oldtimer syndrome.
But those of us whose first item on every day’s To Do list should be “spend 20 minutes looking for To Do list” usually have no trouble recalling events from our distant childhoods.
We’ll come up with an idealized version of what really happened, because the passage of time acts like a game of broken telephone on the truth.
But those memories belong to us, so we should be allowed to take whatever liberties with them that we desire. After all, who wants to look back on a crappy childhood?
Still, since I can’t recall graduating from kindergarten, could it be that I didn’t?
Should I imagine myself in the lead role of a cheesy 1980s movie about a grown man forced to sit in a tiny desk for a year because his educational and employment credentials are invalidated by lack of a kindergarten diploma?
Will I finally have to learn to share my crayons?
I don’t think they ever expelled kids at the kindergarten level. But it’s certainly possible that I was invited not to return.
If I were a teacher assigned to teach the same grade next year, the last thing I’d do is recommend a trouble-maker repeat it.
And I dimly recall leading a sit-down strike against the inclusion of tomato juice as one of three daily beverage selections, not to mention a lie-down strike against compulsory napping.
So my teacher (only one and no assistants, in those days) probably fabricated as much evidence of solid progress as she needed to inflict me on her colleague in Grade 1.
Actually, I think the real reason I can’t remember kindergarten graduation is that there was no such thing in those long-ago times when dinosaurs roamed the Jurassic playground.
Instead of donning a mortar board and being handed a ribbon-bound diploma to the applause of faculty and family, we tremulous tots took home final report cards that told our parents if we had a seat in the Grade 1 come September.
Kindergarten was just another grade. We weren’t leaving the school. No fuss would be made until 10 or 11 or 12 years later when we graduated from Grade 8.
A part of me thinks making a big deal of kindergarten graduation is akin to giving every child a whole boxful of trophies just for existing.
In that validation movement, adults imagine there are no winners or losers, even though by Grade 3 or so every child knows exactly who won and who lost every competition of any sort. And anyone silly enough to swallow the everyone’s-a-winner bunk grows up grossly unprepared for the real world.
We had our own version of everyone-gets-a-trophy when I was a kid. It was no-one-gets-a-trophy.
You might win a city championship, a provincial championship, a national championship, but you wouldn’t get a trophy. Your team might get one, but they’d have to give it back after a year.
If you did really well and got really lucky you might get a cheap felt crest to be sewn onto your jacket. More likely you’d be handed a cheap felt chevron with “hockey” or “baseball” or “bowling” on it, to be sewn on to the sleeve of your jacket.
No one who placed second or worse ever got anything more than a hurried mention over the school PA system the next morning.
Kids who just couldn’t amass enough chevrons in real life joined the cubs, scouts, brownies or guides, where you could get a patch just by burning a few marshmallows.
Still, despite my curmudgeonly instincts, I sort of like the idea of a kindergarten graduation ceremony.
For most of the kids, it’s probably the first time they’ll appear on a stage before a large group of strangers. That’s good experience.
But not too much is expected of them: just hear their names called, walk a few steps to receive a diploma and return to their seats. And all of them equally share the limelight and whatever stage fright there might be.
All the kids have to do, really, is show up and not wet their pants.
There were “awwws” and guffaws from the adults as teachers recited what each child liked to do best at school and at home and what each wanted to do when his or her long educational journey is complete.
The police and fire services will have to go on a massive hiring binge a few decades from now if even half of those tots follow through on their occupational choices and their desire to help others.
But there will be dancers, Toronto Maple Leafs, a princess, a fairy, a mother and even (god help her) a writer as well, if kindergartener’s dreams come true.
For adults, the graduation ceremony is a welcome reminder of the innocence and idealism we all possessed when we were five or six.
The soon-to-be-Grade-One-ers might have glory in the present and look expectantly toward the future. But the adults in the crowd also have the pleasure of revisiting the past.