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Commencement is my high school's (Brantford Collegiate Institute in Brantford Ontario) Graduation Ceremony. Last year I received a call from my VP Tyndall (I have long removed the Mr. from his name) asking for my size of gown for the ceremony this October. I replied that I was not going, and he took my size anyway in case and told me he hoped to see me there.

sigh.

I have since felt it important to make clear both my motivations for not going to and reservations about the Commencement ceremony. This is not just a complaint about high school, but it will sound as such so bear with me for a while.

1. Not in my life have I ever disagreed wholeheartedly with a team of administrators to the extent that I disagree with the ones who run B.C.I. I could (and will) node about my disappointments, but in short:
a) My principal's handling of the outcry during the much discussed Colorado shootings did little except elevate the irrational fear.
b) My dealings with the administration have been unfavourable at best, being sent home for wearing a shirt that said "Lockdown is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.", or being suspended for three days for sexual harassment against a girl whose parents and herself defended me and asked for no action to be taken being the most public of these. Another favourite was the time Tyndall (VP) asked (yelled at) me "Do I look like I give fucking shit?" in the hallway in front of numerous students. {note: Yes, I was indeed quite civil at the time}

In the light of these administrative blunders (and many more) and their influence on my years at high school, I don't believe I was given an environment conducive to learning.

2. The classes were bullshit. Many of the classes were graded entirely on busywork. When I handed in an essay, for example, and receive a 95% on the final work, my grade would drop significantly because I didn't include an outline, rough copy, and so on. More marks in my OAC Geography class were for colouring maps than for our huge ISU we were to be working on for four months.

3. Graduation is supposed to be a huge thing, because you have achieved a large goal you've been working towards for years. However, I never once set graduation as a goal. I slipped into it. I went for six years in a five year program (skipping grade eight for an early start: irony eh?) and never once thought about post - secondary education until the last year (now being a student at Trent, and I love it). I lived with my parents. I coasted through school never working because I would only do the large assignments that I felt were worth my time, or would help me learn the material. For me, graduation is nothing but me standing up and saying "I had it easy and I didn't try. Thank you."

Graduation or Commencement is a big thing for people who weren't lucky enough to be in my position; those who set goals for themself, or couldn't live at home, or possibly now have a child to look after. In short, those who have achieved something of substance. For those people, I say congratulations and I wish you my best. But I personally feel like I would be a liar if I went and participated fully in the ceremony, not to mention how much I would dislike having to shake Tyndall's hand to receive my piece of paper.

Talk to me in four years when I leave Trent.

This is a copy of the letter I sent to my administration explaining why I wouldn't be at the graduation ceremony. Our school has no valedictorian, but I was in the "Top Ten."

6 May 2002

Perkins High School Staff and Administration:

I am writing this letter as a formal request not to attend the 2002 graduation ceremony at which I am scheduled to receive my diploma. While I recognize that many good and well-meaning individuals have done a great deal for me on a personal level, I have decided not to be present at the ceremony as a gesture of my general dissatisfaction with the school system as an institution.

Our school, like many schools, does not exist to promote learning. The ideas of learning for learning's sake, of intellectual inquiry, of critical analysis--these concepts are entirely absent. Our classrooms serve to warehouse students, classify them according to how much pointlessness and futility they are willing to tolerate, and keep them constantly occupied with useless activity at a time when reflection is essential to development.

Everything in the school exists to satisfy institutional requirements. The students work in class to get a grade. The teacher must work first and foremost to produce that grade. The school works to get standardized test scores and maintain athletic programs. No one is interested in challenging the students on an intellectual level. Nowhere flashes a spark of genuine curiosity. Paperwork is more important than teaching. Having the homework done is more important than understanding the material. Grades are based on how consistently students copy phrases out of their textbooks onto their homework papers, not on what they actually learn. Students come to know literature as a chore, history as profoundly boring, and science as a mass of quickly forgotten formulas. We are not being educated; we are merely going through the motions.

More specifically, the Perkins science, literature and mathematics departments have declined dramatically over the eight years that my family has been involved with the system. Too many good teachers have retired recently and their absence is keenly felt. Also, priorities here are very much out of order--note the marketing agreement with the Coca-Cola Company that paid for our football house. Finally, the school system does not provide adequate support for the students who, in spite of it all, remain intellectually motivated.

It is this last point which bothers me the most. Kids who come in bright often leave bitter and discouraged. I could easily cite specific examples to support this. Had I not been able to spend the majority of my last two years at Firelands College I would surely have gone out of my mind with frustration.

Again, I would like to stress that I am extremely grateful to the many individuals who have gone out of their way to help me over the years. Among these are Mr. Gasteier, Mr. Schlessman, Mrs. Spicer, Mr. Gerber, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Fry, Mr. Leffler, Mrs. Meyers, and Mr. O'Shaughnessy, as well as retired faculty members Mr. Blakeman, Mr. Taylor and Mrs. Palmer (just to name a few). I feel, however, that my attendence at the graduation ceremony would indicate an approval for the school system as an institution that I am not willing to give. Please mail my diploma to the address above.

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