Smart kids, commencements and air horns
June, 2011

Little kids are so much smarter than we give them credit for. They’re innately creative, quick to learn, and excited to discover the world and their own abilities. Then we send them to school.

My wife tells of an elementary teacher who took her class to Toro Park for a county nature program. These kids, all from here, were speaking French, of all things. Why? Because the teacher loved French and wanted to teach it to them. Outrageous! In an age where hand-wringing educators lobby for more money to teach kids in Spanish to learn English, here’s a rogue class learning French just because it’s fun. Oh, I’m sure the Spanish speakers among them could still navigate their way around El Super in North Salinas without confusing a burrito with a beret, so no harm-no foul.

I once coached flag football under the late Charles Robinson at the Salinas YMCA. We waged epic battles of skill and wit against a Salinas coaching legend, Jim Rimando. While most dad-coaches ran very basic plays – after all, these were 3rd and 4th graders – Jim taught his teams marvelous trick plays that were fun to watch and confusing to defend. On our side, we found that kids could easily learn sneaky trap blocks and pass patterns that befuddled defenders and helped us go undefeated. All we had to do was show them how, and they loved knowing something the other kids didn’t.

Which brings us back to school. Many of us went to graduation ceremonies last week. I hear some audiences courteously honored the students and faculties for jobs well done. Good for you. Other commencements, like one we attended at the Sports Complex, came off more like a monster truck show or a football game, at least from the stands.

The first thing we noticed was that hardly anyone dressed  like they were going to honor someone they love for accomplishing one of life’s early milestones. They looked like they were going to the sports complex to, well, watch sports. “Does this low cut, roll-revealing tank top make me look fat?” You bet it does, toots. Likewise the sports gear, t-shirts, beer bellies and flip-flops (and those were just the ladies) wrote a sad counterpoint to the dignified proceedings of the day. As for the gentlemen, let’s just say a lot of them looked like they were in town early for the Hollister Bike Rally.

When we got inside, the way people dressed seemed to dictate the way they acted. Clothes, it would appear, still make the man. If you dress up like you’re going to honor someone, you don’t act like you’re at a rugby match. An inadequate speaker system didn’t help. Then there were the idiots blowing air horns, screaming and hooting when their graduates’ names were called, and streaming out as soon as their honoree had received a diploma. Come to think of it, who let all those disorderly dunces into an academic ceremony full of smart people anyway?

By contrast, the graduates themselves seemed to treat the proceedings like something important was happening in their lives.  You could tell by the way they were dressed. The girls showed classy high heels under their robes and many of the guys were sporting neckties. The faculty was striking in their traditional graduate and post-graduate robes, colorful “hoods” (the big collar thing draped over their shoulders) and other academic regalia depicting their area and degree of scholastic accomplishment. I even spotted a U.S. Marine in his dress uniform. Now that’s more like it.

At one point the school’s alumni were asked to stand and take a bow, which they did with characteristic bluster. That’s when I wondered if those eager elementary students who could learn French and trap blocking just for fun hadn’t morphed into dumbed down citizens ready to express themselves with air horns, profanity and ballots. I just hope that when their kids say, “look what I did, Mom!” that Mom, and Dad, won’t just blow an air horn in their face, but instead give them a big hug and tell them how proud they are that they’ve done something great.

Congratulations, graduates, you done good!