Sunday, July 27, 2008

Why Graduation Parties Rock


Last night, I went to the graduation party of one my former students.

I usually go to one graduation party a summer. That is, I get invited to one per summer, and I usually go, and I’m honored to do so. I wouldn’t say it’s uncommon to invite teachers to a high school graduation party, but I don’t know if teachers typically rank high on the list of invitees, either. (Personally, when I was in high school, it didn’t even occur to me to invite one of my teachers.)

I should say, too, that these parties are not like the rager in Say Anything, where Eric Stolz dressed up as a rooster and Lili Taylor sang her 63 original songs to her ex-boyfriend, including the classic “Joe Lies.” Pretty much everyone at that party got loaded—even Ms. Evans, the guidance counselor played by Bebe Newirth, who smiles as she gives her keys to the Key Master, Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack).

Suffice to say, the graduation parties I attend are nothing like that. They’re innocent affairs. Family affairs. The kind of party that features badminton and fruit salad and Great Aunt Barbaba.

Still, whenever I go to one of these parties, I always feel the tiniest pang of awkwardness right as I’m making that twelve second trek from my car to the front door. Mostly, I worry if my very presence, as “Mr. Dursin, Former Teacher,” will suck all the fun out of the room; maybe the kids will feel that they can’t act like themselves, or they’ll feel compelled to stop their “Pin the Tail on the Teacher” game.

Not only that, but as a male teacher, I always want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Thanks to the yahoos out there who play beer pong with their students (or worse), the rest of us normal teachers have to walk the thinnest of thin line, of connecting with our students without making it seem as if we want to be their BFFs. As my former director once said, “Caesar’s wife must be beyond reproach.” I guess, at these parties, I lean more toward Caesar’s Wife than Bebe Newirth.

And yet, when I walk in through that door and are greeted by the shrieks and the manly "one-handshake-hugs" from my former students, any lingering awkwardness or apprehension melts away and I’m reminded, once again, not only why I love going to graduation parties but why going to graduation parties is one of the coolest things a teacher can do. And since it seems Web readers prefer numbered lists, here are five reasons why:

(1) The Kid Is Awesome. It’s always the real special student that invites you to his or her party. Yes, as a teacher, you’re always making connections with students, but let's face it: some students you get to know better than others. Simply put, there are some kids that you just think are awesome. (This isn’t playing favorites or anything; it’s just the reality of human relationships.)

(2) The Parents Are Awesome. Awesome kids tend to come from awesome parents. They always thank you for coming to the party, thank you for helping out their child, thank you for being a good teacher. Their graciousness can actually humble you. Last night, as I was leaving, the mom gave me two containers of food to bring home and a gift—a book called Hamlet’s Dresser. I left thinking, "Wait: it’s your daughter’s party, and you’re giving me a gift?" Like I said, awesome.

(3) Awesome Kids Tend to Hang Out With Other Awesome Kids. For me, seeing these kids in all of their awesomeness outside of the classroom—in their “natural habitat,” so to speak—is always vindicating for me. Here’s what I mean: so often, when I tell people that I teach high school, they give me this “Oh, you poor thing” look or say something about how teens these days are out of control. Not only are they lazy, not only do they lack any respect for authority, but the throw parties reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Usually, the people who tell me this don’t know any teens personally; they just saw something on Dateline.

I almost want to videotape a graduation party like the one I went to last night, just so I can show it when folks go off on one of those rants and say, “Here they are, these so-called rotten kids, these purveyors of debauchery—eating finger rolls and fruit salad, playing badminton, talking about how they saw a Wall-E/ Get Smart double bill at the drive-in.”

Of course, I’m not so na├»ve to think they don’t throw Dateline-worthy parties, but seeing them outside the classroom at graduation parties somehow reinforces for me that it’s not an act; they’re not just good and pure and awesome students, but good and pure and awesome human beings.

(4) The “Shorts” Factor: One former student, who I’ve known for two years, commented to me that she never saw me in shorts before last night-- an innocuous observation, but one that speaks to a real phenomenon: teachers don’t always seem “real” to students. Functions like graduation parties allow students to glimpse behind the curtain to the “real” person beneath the teacher, the person who not only exists outside the walls of the school but actually-- *gasp!*-- wears shorts.

(5) The "Connection" Factor. I think as we get older, we tend to forget how significant high school graduation is. It really is an important milestone. And if you’re invited to celebrate this important day, that basically means you’re important too. I don’t want to get too mushy about this, but the person who sent you the invitation is basically saying, “Look, I met a ton of people in high school, but you really made a difference. You may not even know how you helped, but you did, and I want you here.” And that’s a pretty great thing, if you think about it

So, to the parents and students out there wondering if you should invite a teacher to your graduation party, I say go for it. And for the teachers out there who have ever found themselves on the fence about going to a graduation party, I say give it a shot. You won’t be sorry. Most likely, you’ll leave remembering why you chose teaching in the first place—and, if you’re really lucky, with some strawberry cheesecake as well.

1 comment:

stevenjared0853 said...

Super impressive post and I am glad to read through this. My niece was graduated in the last year. Her mom and I hosted a karaoke themed outdoor party at one of her favorite Chicago event venues. We had DIY decorations and menu for that.