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Zaleski: Sixth grade graduation? Kidding, right?

Thetford, Vt.

My first graduation ceremony came at the end of high school. It was a big deal: cap and gown, family, classmates and teachers sharing the day. We understood we'd earned the ticket to our future. That diploma meant a lot, whether we were going to college or work.

But a sixth grade graduation? You gotta be kidding!

A few days ago, my brilliant and beautiful triplet granddaughters "graduated" from Thetford Elementary School in this lovely Vermont town in a region called the Upper Valley—the Connecticut River Valley. It's a good school. The girls thrived there because of a creative and dedicated faculty, excellent curricula and facilities, and involved parents. It's a small school, but it is not without the resources of bigger schools. The community puts in the tax dollars to assure excellence.

But sixth grade graduation! You gotta be kidding!

Family and friends gathered in the gymnasium. While we sat on bleachers, teachers herded in kids in grades one through five; the two sixth grade classes lined up in the hallway preparing for their entrance. And grand it was. Most of them had dressed for the day (the triplets have a fashion sense), and they walked proudly to the chairs behind the podium and decorative plants. They were glowing.

After attendance awards and recognition of departing faculty, the class sang a wonderful song, and each of the sixth grade students presented a tribute to a classmate. Delightful. They laughed and teared up and genuinely enjoyed saying nice things about their friends.

Next, the principal delivered a commencement speech with life lessons, praise for the class, and deep advice for their future—in seventh grade—at nearby Thetford Academy, where most of the kids will start this fall. We moved outdoors to where a runway on the grass led to a wooden bridge across a brook—the symbolic transition. Each "graduate" ran the corridor, parents and friends cheering them along, high-fives; and received from the principals of the elementary school and the academy their—what?—diplomas? Certificates? Self-esteem documents?

I understand the desire to ease the move from elementary school to seventh grade. It can be difficult. The students enjoyed the day. I get it. I suppose there is no harm in giving the kids a send-off after their years in elementary school.

But beginning graduation ceremonies in sixth grade, and having at least one more in middle school before high school graduation, can dilute the meaning of all of them. Nothing special about high school commencement after a kid has been through a couple already. Maybe I'm overthinking it. Maybe I'm doing the curmudgeon bit by remembering that when I wrapped up sixth grade at Slater Road Elementary School in New Britain, Ct., we got on a bus and went to a city park for a picnic. That was it.

That being said, I smiled when the granddaughters laughed with their friends and family, stood still for a moment while I took photos, and beamed with pride along with their classmates.

And they are ready for college or a job because they have their sixth grade "diplomas." Now I am kidding.

Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at or (701) 566-3576.