For Our Unschooler, an “Ungraduation”

By , May 30, 2011

The time has come for Aly to graduate from high school. I thought I was prepared for this process to be a bit more difficult and significantly different than the standard high school graduation, but apparently, I wasn’t.Aly's graduation announcement

High school graduation is probably the first big milestone in a young American’s life. For some, it remains a defining moment in their life achievements. For others, it’s a happy memory, but not very important in the grand scheme of things. I should have remembered this when it came time to prepare for Aly’s graduation. She seems to have other things on her mind. And, if one participates in student-directed learning, one should be prepared for student-directed matriculation.

My plan was to hold a combined ceremony and celebration with friends, possibly even some family. It would definitely be out of the ordinary. In an unschooling class of one, there’d be no hesitation step march down the aisle, no band, no valedictory speeches, no dignitaries. Still, I hoped for as much pomp as circumstance would allow.

Aly was having none of it. I’d thought she’d soften up after watching her Haines High School friends graduate, but no. She’d asked for a small party with friends, probably at the park in town, but then she decided to defer that for a birthday party along the same lines after she returned from her upcoming 6-week archaeological field school in Canada. When Michelle’s parents visited recently, they took us to a fancy restaurant in town, where we celebrated Aly and gave her gifts. She liked it, but it didn’t change her mind about graduation.

Perhaps she’s learned the lessons of unschooling too well. She believes, as we do, that learning is a lifelong avocation, so receiving a high school diploma is more a bureaucratic detail than a milestone. She’s happy to have it, as it’s a requirement to get her into college, but that’s about it.

And yet, one day she may look back on this with regret. She may wish she’d taken more time to savor her triumph. Also, darn it all, some traditions must be preserved, and as parents, Michelle and I deserve an hour or so of weepy pride and nostalgic reflection.

We created a graduation announcement, as opposed to invitation, which allowed us to keep the date flexible. Those are heading out in the mail as time permits between packing for the field school and applying for more scholarships. We dated the diploma May 31st, but presented it last night for scheduling reasons. Michelle knitted Aly a graduation tam like the kind the dons wear at Ivy league colleges. In Aly’s chosen Mud Bay Home School colors (green and dark blue) and a medieval style that appeals to her, this is more practical headgear than a mortarboard. She’ll wear it long after graduation. Michelle and Aly made a tassel to attach to it.

We started with a  quiet, celebratory family dinner of one of Aly’s favorite homestead meals, bumbleweed pesto, and baked sweet onions. I opened a special bottle of wine for her parents and a “microbrew” root beer for Aly to toast and congratulate her efforts and ours. We then held a brief ceremony in which we presented Aly with her homemade diploma (as allowed by state law) and she shifted the tassel from one side to the other. We had no Edward Elgar to play on the stereo (although it occurs to me we do have Pomp and Circumstance on Disney’s Fantasia 2000 DVD . . . ) but it was good enough.

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The Mud Bay Home School Administrator reads the school’s graduate her diploma (Photo: Michelle Zeiger).

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The happy graduate and proud father (Photo: Michelle Zeiger).

graduation ceremony

Michelle and Aly celebrate (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

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The traditional switching of the tassel! Aly is now a high school graduate (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Incidentally, anyone who might be tempted to dismiss this as family play acting rather than a legitimate, official high school graduation may want to read through our “homeschooling” category. Aly has been schooled within the boundaries of Alaska state law, has passed the state high school qualifying exams, scored highly on standardized tests including SAT subject tests, has been accepted to the college of her choice, and has received academic achievement scholarships from the college and other organizations. We may be having fun, but this is serious business.

7 Responses to “For Our Unschooler, an “Ungraduation””

  1. Congrats to Aly, and to her parents as well. 😉

  2. Helen Harris says:

    Wow! Super! Fantastic! We are so proud of you, Aly, and proud of your parents for teaching and coaching you so well.
    And Mark, you provided a few minutes of weepy emotion for this grandparent.

  3. Afina Kuiper-Hinrichs says:

    “I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
    I took the one less travelled by,
    And that has made all the difference.”

    ~ Robert Frost

    Congratulations on this unique way of celebrating Aly`s graduation.This family definitely makes a difference in how to raise and educate! You all took the road less travelled by. I wish Aly all the best at university and hope you won`t miss her that much.


  4. Don says:

    Congratulations Aly! I hope you go much further and farther in your education, but I doubt you’ll ever have teachers who will mentor you with more love than the ones you’ve had.

    Congratulations to Mark and Michelle for a job well done.

  5. Mark Zeiger says:

    Thanks, Don. You’re absolutely right about her teachers–especially the excellent primary school teachers at Mendenhall River School in Juneau. They are part of why we delayed homeschooling Aly for so long.

  6. Mark Zeiger says:

    Thank you, Afina! What a beautiful comment.

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