Dear Editor – Perspective on Graduation, Rank and File

Light-bulb-0003-300x198Dear Editor,

To the Culver City School Administrators:

Thank you for a memorable graduation ceremony. My family has looked forward to this day for 12 years. My son worked hard and earned the right to walk proudly across that stage to receive the diploma he earned. Thank you for loudly telling him and every one in a sports arena “Congratulations! You graduated . . . just not very well.”

I have no problem recognizing those students who achieved awards for their combination of hard work and good luck. But I do have a problem when you publicly set the rest of our children up as the group the gold star kids are compared to.

One of the administrators asked the students who earned an award to stand and be recognized, five times, each group of awardees given a moment to be applauded. My son was one of the hundreds of graduates left sitting, looking up at all the same people who consistently outshone them for the last six years.

Thanks Culver school administrators for taking one last opportunity to tell our children that this is all a fierce competition and some of you are losing. Thanks especially for making sure all the grandparents were there for it.

Then came the calling of names to receive diplomas. When my family asked “Are they going up in alphabetical order?” I had to explain how the high achievers were separated from the other kids. They were angry and a bit ashamed and said “God forbid the special kids have to mingle with the riff raff.”

High achievers deserve to be recognized. There are special ceremonies for that. This wasn’t one of those ceremonies. Believe me, those kids have several events in which they get to be spotlighted, praised and applauded. For a very large majority of students, Graduation is the ONE day that no one says “you’re behind.” This is the day that they cross the finish line. My son will forever remember graduation day as one last time Culver District reminded him and his friends, parents and extended family that his hard work and dedication don’t matter.  We all carried that warm glow for the rest of the evening. I’m doing my best to help him celebrate that, thank God, he will not be “Centaur for Life.”

Name with held in respect for my child’s dignity.
(Something only Steve Levin thought was important.)

Editor’s note – While we do not publish anonymous letters, this correspondent made their identity known to us, and requested that their name be withheld. We are respecting that request. 

The Actors' Gang


  1. I anticipate the writer will be judged harshly for this, but I think she has a point. Much is written about how it’s wrong to make kids lives all “equal” and “fair” with participation awards, and I agree that there are stellar accomplishments that should be rewarded and that perhaps attendance and participation awards are a distraction in an awards ceremony that honors true achievement and hard work. But perhaps graduation is a time to honor everyone equally — in front of family, friends, and fellow students, maybe it makes sense to level the playing field and celebrate that everyone made it. I know my kid did not stand up for a thing at the start of that ceremony — even “lifelong Centaur.” My kid made it through, despite some obstacles, passed classes, is out, and moving on to the next phase with enthusiasm. But will never look back longingly at what was a difficult time.

  2. As someone whose child was among the “gold star kids” (as the writer put it) at the ceremony, I absolutely agree. This should have been a celebration for all.

  3. I feel compelled to answer your letter. As I hope was apparent from my little speech on graduation day, I agree with you that every student who walked across the stage on Friday deserves our respect, our admiration, and our congratulations. I also firmly believe that the overwhelming majority of adults in CCUSD agree as well. Only sometimes, in our pride at the visible successes of our “shining stars”, we overlook the greater accomplishments of those whose victories are less obvious, but no less real.

    None of us can really know the effort, determination, and grit which lay behind some of our students who “just” graduated. Every individual is unique, and providing an education customized to the individual is our biggest challenge. For those who don’t fit as well into the system, it can seem like no one cares as the machine tries to force round pegs into square holes. I promise you we do care, and we are trying. In 3 years serving on the school board, I have seen the care, the effort, and the dedication of a great many people who are part of CCUSD. I won’t list the changes we’ve made, and all the steps in the right direction. Instead, let me just acknowledge that until we learn how to teach each and every child in a way that works for that individual, we fall short of our goal. If any parent feels we do not all honor, respect, and care about every child, then we still have work to do.

    Almost 40 years ago, I was one of those recognized and lauded at high school graduation. At the time, I knew it didn’t feel right, but I didn’t understand why. Today, with decades of experience and hindsight, I see that pride and accomplishment come not from the things we find easy, but from those we find hard. I urge you and your son to take pride in his accomplishment, and to recognize that we gain more strength from the battles we barely win than from the “successes” which come easily. We all have within us the capacity for greatness, and I am confident that your son can find his strengths and define success on his own terms. If he won’t be looking fondly back on his time at CCHS, I hope at least that, years from now, he will see CCHS as the first of many mountains successfully conquered. And perhaps your courageous letter will help a few more of us to see the shining success which doesn’t always glow with ribbons, awards, and accolades.
    -Steve Levin

  4. Steve, we had a similar chat a few years back (at Starbuck’s) about some of these issues. You have such insight into the social, academic, physical, psychological struggles that some of our kids face that make it a challenge to walk through those gates every day and focus on what they need to do. I really appreciated that you listened then, and I think Culver City is really lucky to have you on the School Board.

  5. Yes, Thanks Steve for your tender speech at graduation, AND for your words here. They really do give me hope that the “average” kids aren’t just seen as audience for the high achievers. But here’s my specific beef about Friday’s event and where I agree with the writer of this letter: I can’t remember the EXACT words of the awards, so please just understand the gist . . . It began with “Everyone who took a bunch of AP classes stand up and be applauded” then “Everyone who lettered in a sport stand up and be applauded” then “Everyone who did AVPA stand up and be applauded” then “Everyone who got a multi language award stand up and be applauded” Then the remaining students were asked to stand if they are “Centaur for life!” Really? Seriously? That’s all we can say about those people? I really think those students actually DID something to end up in those white chairs. Maybe “And everyone who worked their butts off for four years to earn a diploma from one of the highest ranked schools in the area stand up and be applauded.” Maybe just a little thought about the “other” (read majority) kids would be nice, so they don’t just get thrown in at the end like unrecognizable leftovers.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with the writer, and I am glad that you had the courage to speak up about this issue.

    The way that the diplomas were presented left a bad taste in my mouth as well.

    My daughter spent much of her last few weeks in High School studying the issue of tracking in both the middle school and the high school and gained a clearer understanding of the effects that these separations have on students. She was saddened that this last moment in the District showed that there was much that the District still has to improve to show that all students, regardless of their abilities, matter equally.

    I sincerely hope that by the time my son graduates from High School we evolve from this practice.

  7. Ari’s piece is revealing of a disturbed mind set. I’ll blame it on the current political environment where people who nurture their imagined victimization by women and ‘minorities’ have crawled out of their holes to public ally declaim, “I am an idiot. Do not try to silence me or remind me that words have consequences. Make America grate (sic) again.” Ari, there is a difference between censorship and impulse control. Respect your lobes that warn you about revealing your pain and fears. You are welcome to your dark thoughts, but please drag them back to your hole.

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