Editorial: Diploma Dilemma
June 1, 2011
As graduation day approaches, most seniors are happily anticipating the capstone ceremony of their four years at Menlo-Atherton. For some, however, the excitement of high school commencement is tinged with disappointment.
In early May, seniors were given the opportunity to ask a teacher or staff member to hand them their diploma on graduation day. This tradition was first instituted to make the ceremony more personal for the student, who could receive their diploma from someone who had played an important role in their high school career.
However, the administration has since limited the number of diplomas per teacher to sixteen. As a result, teachers who reach this prescribed limit are forced to turn away students they would otherwise like to accept. Seniors who have been rejected by a teacher they are close with find themselves in the uncomfortable position of choosing someone who does not know them as well.
This cap has been in place since teachers started handing out diplomas nine years ago, though this year the limit of sixteen marks a step down from last year’s twenty. This decrease has forced teachers to be even more cautious with the number of students they give diplomas to. Promising diplomas to students has even become a sort of burden on the teachers, and many have asked students to consider asking others before they run into their cap.
The problem now is not that teachers have too many students requesting their participation in the ceremony, but that seniors give up on their first choice before they even ask. If students think a teacher might reach the limit of sixteen, some will assume the worst and ask another staff member. Many want to avoid putting their teachers in the harsh position of having to choose between them and another student, and as a result turn to someone with whom they aren’t as close.
In defense of the cap, some teachers cite their desire to make graduation as personal as possible; they argue that if you’re one of fifty students receiving a diploma from one teacher, you’re not getting the point of why the policy was implemented in the first place.
However, the external rules do not foster personal relationships, and this arbitrary limit may in fact drive students away from the teachers who they have grown closest to at M-A. In fact, imposing teacher quotas and caps is about as impersonal a twist to this process as there can be.
Contention over both the caps and the entire process of teacher-distributed diplomas has put M-A’s unique tradition under fire. Some teachers argue that the cleanest solution to the problem is for Mr. Zito or the guidance counselors to hand diplomas to every senior, standardizing the process and leaving teachers out of it entirely.
This is the absolute opposite direction from where M-A ought to be heading. Graduation should be memorably personal, and having a meaningful teacher be part of that ceremony is a truly wonderful tradition to have. While doing away with the current system is a quick fix to the problem, it’s far from the right one.
The preparation for teachers distributing diplomas may be hectic, but most agree that the stresses of the school year melt away and the true worth of the current policy shines through on graduation day. Ultimately, the point of the policy is not about administrative facility or teacher preference– it’s about the graduates, marking their final minutes as M-A students before they go their various ways into the world before them.
The caps are unnecessary. If a teacher wants to hand diplomas to a small group of graduates, let them make that choice. If we want to make the process meaningful, the decision should be left to the student and the teacher, not to a staff meeting vote.
Administrators and teachers will likely be around for next year’s graduation to debate a new solution to the process of distributing diplomas. Seniors, however, only get to graduate once. Some extra legwork on the part of administrators is worth the benefit for our seniors.