Friday, May 23, 2014

Congratulations, graduates: you’ve done exactly what you’re expected and legally required to do!

I started this blog because writing these responses is somewhat cathartic for me when I must be subjected to these links on my facebook newsfeed. If someone is already in the mindset to be enamored of Matt Walsh, I know there is nothing I can write to convince them otherwise. However, I will say it has been nice to see a few comments from other people, similarly frustrated by the assaults on their newsfeeds, who appreciate my responses. You are very welcome! Nevertheless, it can be time-consuming and just reading through an entire Matt Walsh blog post is often... not enjoyable. So, when he writes a post that is more silly than offensive, and doesn't require much comment from me, so much the better, for those reasons and more.

This time Matt chose to focus his culture warrior energies on the extremely important and urgent matter of graduation ceremonies. I took a gander at the comments (something I am rarely brave enough to do), and it seems that the limitations to his argument were so obvious that even many of his fans were able to point them out. They did my work for me! Hurray!

To summarize:

First of all, in keeping with Matt's tendency to discount the importance of social institutions (even of society/community in general), Matt cannot seem to comprehend the function of rites of passage. Why celebrate a milestone if it is something that everyone attains? If it doesn't make you "special," why bother recognizing it? If that is the case, as one of the commenters pointed out, we may as well do away with birthday parties too.

Second, Matt presumes that making it through school does not require hard work or endurance of any kind (including, as some commenters pointed out, putting up with social pressures and bullying)... OR, that hard work and endurance do not deserve to be recognized. If the latter, then Matt is essentially valuing accomplishment over effort. There is something to be said for both. Accomplishment is great, but some people are naturally inclined to achieve things more easily than others. Do we not value hard work and perseverance as well?

Third,  Matt sees the celebration of something that he, personally, views as meaningless as a symptom of the broader societal decay that he is so concerned about. Without any evidence whatsoever to back him up, he claims that kids are now raised "amidst constant preening, fawning, coddling, pampering, and congratulating" and that this will result in their ability to cope with life as adults, a dependency on recognition and flattery, and possibly even psychological issues like depression. In addition to the fact that he is declaring things to be true without doing any research, it is also unclear whether he thinks today's 23-year-olds are the maladaptive products of such an upbringing, or whether he is merely speculating about what will happen to the children currently being raised under these supposed conditions.

Finally, I think it is clear to everyone that Matt doesn't like graduation ceremonies because everything related to education sends him into a rage. However, I doubt he would have any problem with any of his readers clicking on the ads for graduation party supplies on his website so that he can tap into that ad revenue.

Matt Walsh writes:

America, listen, we need to talk.

I know we can’t agree on very much these days, but we should still be able to find some common ground somewhere.

May I suggest a starting point?

Graduation ceremonies. Specifically, graduation ceremonies for kids who aren’t actually graduating from anything at all.

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends sent out a mass invitation to a “graduation party” for her son. I don’t know her, but clicked on it anyway. I was immediately impressed. A picture of her young child accompanied the description of the festivities. “Wow,” I thought. “That kid looks like he’s 11-years-old! If he’s graduating at that age, the little guy definitely deserves a party!”

And that’s when I noticed, to my sorrow, the words “elementary school.”

This was not, apparently, an occasion to celebrate a child so gifted and determined that he managed to complete 12 years of coursework before his 12th birthday, but rather an opportunity to pat a kid on the back for making the expected, required, and terribly non-momentous transition from 5th to 6th grade.

An elementary school graduation party; which, I assume, follows an elementary school graduation ceremony; which likely comes a few years after the kindergarten graduation ceremony; which is preceded by the pre-school graduation ceremony; which is the first in a long line of ceremonies, including the middle school graduation ceremony and the high school graduation ceremony. Before legal adulthood, these kids will be the subject of more ceremonial adulation than Medal of Honor recipients, despite the fact that their “accomplishments” don’t quite rise to that same lofty level.

Might I remind everyone that kids are compelled to finish school? A ten-year-old literally can’t do anything but make it to sixth grade. It’s required by law. You might as well throw me a party for wearing pants when I went to the post office this morning. Sure, a kid can be held back a grade, but eventually everyone will be pushed through the various stages of social promotion, because ‘no child’ can be ‘left behind.’

We raise our children amidst constant preening, fawning, coddling, pampering, and congratulating, and then scratch our heads and wonder why they eventually enter adulthood so entirely unprepared for the rigors and challenges of the real world.

“What?! I showed up to my job on time for a whole year, completed the minimum amount of work required, and performed at an overall standard, to slightly substandard, level — yet nobody’s handing me a ribbon or giving a lengthy speech heralding my many achievement?! Unacceptable! I’ve been bullied! I quit!”

We get them hooked on recognition and flattery at the age of three, and by the time they’re 23 they’ve become full-blown addicts. They develop a dependency on attention and affirmation, and can’t handle living in a universe that doesn’t stop to give them a cookie every time they complete some minor, routine task. This attention-seeking, “hey, notice me!” mentality can lead them down a dark path towards resentment, jealousy, depression, and Snapchat accounts.

And here I thought we’d reached the pinnacle of narcissistic absurdity back with the invention of the tee ball trophy. A trophy. For tee ball. I mean, have you ever seen tee ball in action?

It’s madness.

Kids running every which way. Players switching sides in the middle of the contest. The batter swings, misses, hits the tee, runs to second, the second baseman doesn’t see him because he’s too busy eating grass or making sand castles, the runner moves back to first, then cuts across the field to third, suddenly the first baseman runs home while the catcher heads to the dugout for a juice box. Then a whistle is blown, everyone applauds, and one of the moms hands out snacks.

There is no score. Nobody wins. Nobody loses. Nothing happens. There are no rules. There is no point. And everyone gets a trophy.



It’s pretty bad, but this graduation nonsense is worse. To think of the two concepts together — to consider the scenario where a child attends his t-ball trophy ceremony a few weeks before his kindergarten graduation party — well, it’s more than I can stomach.

The whole charade is dishonest, really. We’re lying to these poor kids. Worse still, we’re diluting their real achievements (should they ever have any) by sounding the trumpet and sprinkling the confetti every time they tie their own shoes.

What happens when they actually earn the confetti and the trumpets? What happens when they cure male pattern baldness or rescue a baby moose from a wildfire or something? Our words of appreciation will be muted and muffled, as their ears still ring from the 87 parades we threw for them between the ages of four and fourteen.

What a tragedy.

But, I admit that I’m biased. This is all coming from the guy who even dislikes high school graduation ceremonies. Maybe I’m just a curdmugeon. Or maybe I don’t like them because they’re way too long, and my family can never leave early because our graduates are always at the end of the alphabet. Or maybe I’ve noticed that the pomp and circumstance all feeds into the faulty notion that you’ve somehow accomplished something just because you completed the steps you were mandated to complete.


At the end of every high school graduation ceremony — staggering and gasping for breath after having spent 7 hours sitting on crowded bleachers listening to the principal mispronounce a lengthy list of names I don’t recognize — I feel like Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan.

Shot in the gut, bleeding to death, he looked up at Matt Damon and muttered, “earn this.” The point being that Private Ryan hadn’t actually done anything to earn the enormous amount of effort and sacrifice these other men assumed on his behalf. Similarly, high school graduates haven’t necessarily done anything to earn the steady stream of praise and adulation they’ve received throughout their childhood, culminating in this bloated, overlong pageant. They haven’t earned it, but now they can officially begin the task of paying off that debt (right after they go to the bank and take on another massive debt to help pay for college).

If I was ever asked to give a high school commencement address (which seems unlikely at this point), that would be my entire speech:


Earn this.
Thank you for your time.

It would be the shortest, and therefore greatest, high school graduation speech ever delivered.
And if I was somehow asked to give the keynote address at an elementary school graduation, I imagine it would go something like this:

Kids who are still seven years from being graduates,

Take off those silly robes and go do your chores.
Thank you for your time.

Succinct. Timely. Educational. It would be a fantastic speech for such a fantastically useless event.
So, needless to say, I declined the invitation.

OK, fine, I clicked “maybe.”

They’ll have free food — it’s not ALL bad.

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