Don’t Forget To Graduate

Don’t Forget To Graduate

It is everyone's responsibility to remind kids to graduate.

It is everyone’s responsibility to remind kids to graduate.

If you enjoy interesting stories, you will enjoy this one.

I was working at Gallery North a year ago last summer. My car was unlocked because I was loading and unloading photographs throughout the day. At closing time I went to my car and when I opened the door, I was shocked, astonished, startled to find a teenage girl hiding in the back of my minivan.

I wasn’t too sure what to say so I just said, “What are you doing here?” She said, “I was waiting for my mother. Could you give me a ride home?”

“That isn’t possible,” I said. She was about to cry as she made her way to the door, no doubt, fearful that I might call the police. As she was walking hurriedly away, I shouted, “Don’t forget to graduate.”

Some people might think this was a strange thing to say, but it was probably as good, if not better, than most things I could have said like, “Come back here. We need to talk.”

Obviously, here was a girl who had some issues in her life. She had a story to tell. Graduating from high school was the furthest thing from her mind.

In spite of our successful efforts in recent years to help students graduate, both from high school and college, we have miles to go before we can sleep. We can’t take a rest and say, “Well, our graduation rate is higher than it was ten years ago, let’s celebrate.”

Our high school graduation rate nation wide is about 75%. For Whites, it’s about 79%, for Blacks, 62%, for Native Americans, 51% and for Hispanics, 68%.  Asians have the highest graduation rates among various ethnic groups at 81%. The overall graduation rate in Minnesota is just over 80% and for ethnic groups other than Asians, it is considerably lower according to Education Week’s, Diploma’s Count.

Why worry about the graduation rate? Some students just aren’t meant to graduate from high school and certainly some students just aren’t meant to graduate from college. Many people believe this. The day we need to argue about the need for a high school diploma is long gone.

Let’s just say that we set our graduation goal at 85% or 90%, which would be very good. These are high expectations. We, as educators, believe in high expectations. So out of a senior class of 100, ten or fifteen will not graduate.

Which student are you going to leave out? When you announce that the graduation rate will be 85 or 90 percent, which student aren’t you talking about? Maybe it’s your grandson or your niece or your son or your daughter.

Wouldn’t it be more morally correct if we said, “We expect everyone to graduate and we will do our best to ensure that everyone, 100%, walks across that stage with a diploma in hand.”? What if every teacher, every community leader, every parent, and every student worked hard to see that this happened?

Remember the scene at the end of the movie in Schindler’s List? Oscar Schindler confessed that he could have sold more of his things to get more money to give to the Germans who then, in turn, would allow more Jews to work in his factories thereby saving them from the gas chambers. Oscar Schindler said, “I could have done more.”

This semester I have to give several failing grades to my college students.  As a result of those failing grades, those students may become discouraged and drop out. Their dreams of pursuing their careers may be shattered just because of this failing grade.

Yes, I did allow them more time to complete their work. Yes, I did frequently remind them that they needed to get their work in. Some took advantage of the opportunities and some didn’t.

Could I have done more? Could have I made more phone calls? Could I have made myself more available? Could I have developed a more personal relationship?

I am not in favor of just handing out diplomas or making it easier to earn a diploma. That wouldn’t be morally right. I do believe, however, that all of us can do more and need to do more to help our students graduate.

Educators at BSU and NTC can do more. Educators in the Bemidji School District and Trek North and Voyagers can do more. Educators at Red Lake, Cass Lake, Bagley, Kelliher, Northome, Clearbrook, Fosston, Blackduck, LaPorte and Walker can all do more. Educators in our elementary schools including St. Philips can do more. Our city council, county commissioners, Bemidji Leads, Raising Bemidji, Tribal Councils, Rotary and Lions members, can all do more.

We need to realize that the onus for the graduation rate is not just on the educators but we all need to take responsibility. All parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, all need to help students graduate.

How? There are many things that schools and communities are currently doing. Here are a few simple things that all of us can do.  First, support the idea that our expectation needs to be 100% graduation rate. Second, support the idea that all educators (k-16) as well as community members need to take responsibility for the graduation rate. Third, all of us need to remember to say, “Don’t forget to graduate.” Fourth, each of us needs to ask ourselves, “What more can I do?”

I wish I knew that young lady who bolted out of my car that one summer day.  I would like to ask her how she is doing in school and remind her, once again, “Don’t forget to graduate.”

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