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Stepping across the threshold

As we were discussing our plans recently for coverage of today’s commencement ceremonies at King’s Fork, Lakeland and Nansemond River high schools, I got to thinking about the differences between a kindergarten and a high school graduation. This year, I had the pleasure of covering both.

The biggest difference is the singing. A high school graduation probably includes the National Anthem, sung by a graduate or some other soloist or ensemble as the rest of the crowd stands there wishing the temperature were 10 to 15 degrees cooler. Kindergarten graduation, though, is a veritable songfest.

Whether the youngsters have the voice for it or not, and even if they don’t precisely know the words, voices are lifted heartily — often accompanied by hand motions. Even the audience gets involved, as a visitor can easily find five or 10 mothers mouthing the words of each song right along with her child. After all, it’s not just the 5-year-old who had to memorize “Little Lambkins, Have You Any Wool?” By the time kindergarten is over, the whole family had to learn it.

Another difference between the kindergarten and high school ceremonies is that the speeches are shorter for the younger kids’ program. And less predictable, too.

By the time they’ve attended their third high-school graduation, most folks have developed a mental Graduation Bingo card. “We’ll always remember the friends we have made here.” Check. “This isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning.” Check. “You are the future.” Check. “We came into this school as strangers and are leaving as friends.” BINGO!

Your kindergartener’s graduation, on the other hand, might not include a speech at all. Little Johnny, who was already distracted during the “Little Lambkins” song by the sight of dust falling through a sunbeam, could never be expected to sit through some minor politician’s puffery.

Again, as with so much about kindergarten, the ceremony is a participatory event for the children, who often give their own speeches and recitations. But when he stands to recite “Little Miss Muffett,” there’s about a 50-50 chance that Johnny will twist things up so badly that Daddy will be able to turn him into a minor YouTube sensation by the end of the weekend.

Which puts me in mind of one big difference between the kindergarteners and the seniors: The kindergarteners usually look like they’re having more fun. Whether it’s all the singing, or the poetry — or maybe just the fact that they know there’s cake and ice cream waiting nearby once the program is over — the youngsters are generally smiling and laughing. Parents and teachers might be crying, but no kindergarten graduation has ever been referred to as a solemn occasion.

For the most part, however, the seniors are all about dignity, walking tall and slowly across a stage to shake hands with a principal and receive their diplomas. Parents and friends in the audience sometimes shout and whoop it up as their graduates take those important steps. Whatever is running through the graduates’ minds, though, it’s probably not about cake and ice cream. And whatever fun they’re considering, they’re studiously keeping a straight face for Mom and Dad.

To all the graduates this year — from kindergarten through college — we say congratulations. You are the leaders of the future. Remember this place always and know that we will never forget you.