I recently had the honor of speaking and giving out some diplomas at a Casa Thomas Jefferson graduation ceremony. 536 students of various ages and programs got diplomas. The diplomas are symbols hard work, but do note confer any special privileges. Yet the students came for them and so did their families. Everybody was proud. It was the affirmation of a community that made the difference.
Rituals have a place in our lives that we often forget or neglect. My speech was not very interesting and nobody expected it to be. You don’t come to a ceremony like this for stirring oratory. I was playing my role, as were the others. The fact that we were doing it mattered, not the ostensible content. We marked the achievement and the transition of the students.
IMO, we have abandoned too many of our traditions and rituals. We like to think that we are too sophisticated and that we see through these “empty” gestures. There are indeed empty gestures, but many of the traditions that mark transitions or recognize achievement are not empty. They are full of meaning as structures that define our lives and hold our society together. When people neglect their roles, society starts to fray.
The Casa Thomas Jefferson students were admirable and they deserved the recognition that the ceremony gave them. Many of the adults work all day and study at night. They know that English is an important asset for their success. We Americans don’t appreciate how lucky we are that we learn the world language as our first. One author said that it is almost like being born already knowing algebra. Others understand the power of our native language and are willing to sacrifice to learn it.
I have a lot of respect for those who learn my language & I am glad that they do. I have had a lot of fun learning my Portuguese, Polish and Norwegian, but since I can’t learn all the languages of the world, I am delighted that so much of the world has decided to learn mine. And if I can celebrate their achievement and take part in their traditions, it sure makes me happy.