The Importance of Rites of Passage
Graduation, especially from high school and college,
can be an important rite of passage in our society. It recognizes the achievement of one dream or goal, and the start of a new dream.
A rite of passage – a ritual or ceremony that marks the movement from one stage of life to another – has both emotional and social functions. It celebrates accomplishments and knowledge gained; it acknowledges new responsibilities and opportunities; it adjusts the young person and their family to these changes; it establishes a sense of connectedness with the flow of time and the larger community.
From early African rituals focusing on strength and fertility to the Jewish bar mitzvah, cultures have found ways to mark an individual's passage from one stage of life into another. As the world continues to change so dramatically, rites of passage become even more important. They are also more challenging.
When, exactly, do young people "come of age" in our society? When they can drive? Drink? Vote? When they graduate from high school? College? Move out of the house? Get married? Have children? In a diverse society, transitions and rituals are not as clearly prescribed as they once were and there is no single way to identify or mark a transition. We can lose the opportunity for a sense of completion, accomplishment, and a smooth transition. All too often, even when coming-of-age rituals are enacted, they proceed by rote and leave young people unmoved and unchanged. Without appropriate rites of passage, teens and young adults
feel a void in their lives.
Young people have a particularly strong need to find
their way and their niche, and without adult or societal direction, they can be left feeling unconnected and unfocussed. If parents – and grandparents – don't help guide their children into adulthood, they shouldn't be surprised if their kids never get there. It's so easy to get lost in the arduous journey, and if you don't have a compass and a clear idea of the terrain, you'll be more easily led down less-desirable paths or wander around aimlessly.
Celebrating milestones along the way to adulthood helps parents and grandparents strengthen their relationship with their children and grandchildren. Because change is one of the few constants in modern life, teaching young people how to handle transitions in a courageous, creative way and move toward the future gives them an important life skill. Thoughtful rituals can not only help young people enjoy an experience and feel a sense of achievement, but can help them develop the tools and instincts to fashion meaningful rituals of their own for major transitions like marriage, the birth of children, career upheavals, middle age, and even death.
A ritual has three general parts: preparation, action, and celebration – basically, a beginning, a middle, and an end. An event like a graduation ceremony followed by a family dinner is a chance for people to get together, to stop for a moment and focus on accomplishments achieved and hopes yet to be fulfilled, and to find comfort and inspiration at an emotional level. Change and growth obviously can't be encapsulated in a single day, but a formal event gives symbolic representation to moving forward.
Graduation is the culmination of so much that is intensely personal. It's also a time when personal achievement is publicly recognized, and so it means something to the individual and at the same time connects the individual to the community. A young person is crossing a threshold that many before have crossed and many after will cross. It's one of those moments that brings together both our commonalities and our uniqueness.
A Brief History of Graduation
The one big moment you look forward to during all those years when you're in school? Graduating!
Today, young people graduate from college or university, high school, junior high or middle school, elementary school and even kindergarten. Quipped one parent, "My son is five years old and has had his second graduation in two years, this time from kindergarten. If this keeps up, he'll eventually learn to march single-file."
The graduation ceremony has many historical traditions associated with it, which helps make it special and meaningful. Graduation ceremonies were first held by European universities in the Middle Ages. Early degree ceremonies took place in the mid-12th century at the University of Bologna and, soon after, at Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge. Harvard was the first American university to hold a commencement ceremony in 1642.
American educational institutions still have many European graduation customs. As part of the ceremony, graduates march single file to a stage, often with formal musical accompaniment. Each graduate walks across the stage, is handed their diploma, flips the tassel on their cap from the right to the left (to signify a graduate), and receives a handshake from a university official. Graduates wear academic gowns and caps. By tradition, gowns are long and black, fashioned after the everyday dress worn by members of the academic community in medieval Europe. The majority of scholars then were churchmen and their dress was often strictly regulated by the church. The tasseled, square, flat black caps are called mortarboards. The color of the tassel that graduates transfer from right to left shows the kind of degree the graduate is receiving. Graduates may wear colored hoods on their backs to show the highest degree they already hold, and the institution that conferred it.
Diplomas and yearbooks are important keepsakes that are part of graduation. A diploma includes the date, graduate's full name, institution, and the type of degree. Until about 100 years ago, diplomas were made from paper-thin sheepskin, handwritten, rolled and tied with a ribbon. When papermaking techniques improved, diplomas began being printed on parchment.
The yearbook has evolved over many centuries. In the 1600s, students filled blank pages of scrapbooks with newspaper clippings, personal notes, dried flowers, and hair clippings. In 1806, the first college yearbook – which looked like a photo album – was published by Yale. In 1845, the first high school yearbook was published in Waterville, NY; it was called "The Evergreen." The modern yearbook was born in 1880 as improvements in printing made it affordable. In 1986, schools began using computers and desktop publishing to make their own yearbooks. Many yearbooks today are available on DVD and online.
Celebrating the Dream
A gift can be an important part of the graduation ritual itself and it can become a treasured keepsake as the years pass. Especially since it's marking a key life milestone, you want something lasting and meaningful. The gift should have one eye on the past and the other on the future – dreams achieved, and dreams yet to be attained.
A gift book is something with meaning that will last. It sits shining on a bookshelf to be picked up when comfort or inspiration is needed, or when a loving memory needs to be evoked. Children's books are particularly popular choices as a graduation gift because they're often beautifully produced and encapsulate a heartfelt message.
Dream – the title itself is a hopeful invitation to the potential of the future! – is a meaningful and beautiful graduation gift book. CM Review describes Dream as
"a book you can pin a dream on! A worthy rival to
Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go as a favorite milestone gift book." Find out more about Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes by Susan V. Bosak.