My immediate reaction to much of what I read online or in the paper is usually of interest, disgust or fatigued exasperation. Even when my reaction is a combination of all three, I usually don’t also think of a movie I haven’t seen in a long time.

Then I read about those recent wild, graduation parties,  opulently celebrating success and promotion — from the 8th grade. Interest; disgust; fatigued exasperation. Then, I thought:

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen The Incredibles.

Having seen animation from both sides of the Pacific, and a lot of it, I have some authority to say that among the Pacific-sized morass of crappy cartoons, The Incredibles stands out. Even years afterward, it remains one of the few that entirely avoids typical conventions: journeys of self-discovery, boneheaded comic relief henchmen and breaking into song.  It’s also one of the few movies with substantive depth.

The Incredibles had novel, distinct themes, and, like few other animated movies, had them in the plural sense. The most central theme went to the effect that “if everyone is incredible, then no one is.”

When I first saw the movie, it resonated. It shouldn’t surprise me that it also resonates with the idea of full-blown eighth-grade graduations.

In the last few weeks at Community Middle School in Plainsboro, N.J., year-end activities have included a formal dance; the Cameo awards, an Oscars-like ceremony for students in the television and video production classes; a trip to Hersheypark in Pennsylvania; and a general awards assembly. On Thursday evening there was a salute to the entire class. On Friday, the class picnic.

Community Middle’s veneration of its young teenagers is neither unique nor particularly excessive (the dance was in the gym). Across the country, in urban and suburban school districts, in rich communities and impoverished ones, eighth-grade celebrations now mimic high school or even college graduations: proms, the occasional limousine, renditions of “Pomp and Circumstance,” dignitaries speechifying and students in caps and gowns loping across the stage for diplomas. …

In many towns the sophistication and expense of the graduations are surging. The Internet teems with teenagers seeking comments about dresses and hairstyles for year-end events. Party planners, caterers and invitation designers market themselves for eighth-grade parties.

The students at the middle school in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., an affluent community, enjoy a dinner cruise with a D.J. around Manhattan. And in the stricken schools of Chicago’s South Side, Mr. Cowling said, “It’s a big business event: everyone has on a new outfit, manicures, pedicures, the hair” for a ceremony that can last two hours. “And then,” he said, “kids go to 5, 10 parties in the neighborhood, in hotels.”

What damage do we do to our kids, when we celebrate moving from the eighth grade to the ninth? How do they develop a sense of distinction, when everyone is distinguished? Do we really want to devalue success, for the sake of keeping everyone feeling good about themselves? Why feel good about doing the absolute minimum?

Ego egalitarianism is the wrong path. We need to encourage success and recognize failure, rather than give everyone that gold star of triviality. If not, we might end up like Kurt Vonnegut foretold, Madeline L’Engle affirmed, and Bob “Mr. Incredible” Barr ranted.

It is not a graduation. He is moving from the fourth grade to the fifth.

It’s a ceremony.

It’s psychotic. They keep coming up with new ways to celebrate mediocrity.

Celebrating marginal success encourages marginal success. That’s bad any way you look at it.

What are the appropriate lengths for celebrating an eighth grade graduation, so that it doesn’t encourage marginal success? How much is overkill, and how much is ideal?


  1. At about 2:15 in his most famous bit, Chris Rock rants about this. He makes it racial, though he doesn’t have to — as he later admits, the welfare mentality crosses racial lines.

  2. ha!

    Celebrating mediocracy?!?! You were denied your teaching credential for being a fucking dumbass. I would be horrified to teach in the same school because of your sense of superiority. I’m actually glad that you came up with the idea that you didn’t want to actually be a teacher…

  3. Kathryn

    Well, we certainly can’t have any superior teachers on the loose.

  4. Ms. Tonello: Seems to me that anonymity gives Internet users balls of brass, and even you are no exception. I’m not sure how your comment is accurate, appropriate or relevant, but I think your obscenity speaks for itself. With professionals like you around, it’s a wonder I didn’t follow your example sooner.

    Feel free to read my accurate-or-not internal reasoning — whatever you believe, I had it in spades. If you’d also like to continue trolling, I have no problem with it. I’ve dealt with your kind before.

    Ms. Kathryn: Well played, ma’am. Well played.

  5. I recently helped document our schools sixth grade promotion (deliberately not called a graduation, so there is no confusion). I’m of two minds about these ceremonies. It is a nice cap on their leaving a place they’ve been for half their lives. I shudder though at how much effort and money some families can put into it. There is NO WAY that it resembles a high school graduation with only 60+ students (e.g. my high school class had something like 500+ graduates), and there are no gowns or mortar boards, etc.

    That being said, behavior modification works best if you reward for increments (especially if the subject is on the edge of not meeting the overall goal), so based on that I think it’s a good idea within reason.

    You and others questioning this in a thoughtful way, are helpful because it does bear scrutiny, even if I come out on the other side of the argument.

  6. There’s nothing wrong with a small, subdued ceremony that’s little more than a handshake, but there’s certainly something wrong about all this opulence.

    Our biggest question: What is within reason? Where is the line drawn?

  7. dkzody

    I have been lead to believe that many of the 8th grade celebrations that occur in these parts are because the parents and the students think this might be the only graduation they will have given the low graduation rates of our high schools.

    It just occurred to me, however, that one of the local middle schools did not have its big graduation celebration this year that is usually held in our splendid auditorium. So, maybe our district is cutting back on these events, you think?

  8. Cutting back, I’d say, is a reasonable maneuver. Celebrating 8th grade commencement like this validates achieving at that level and only that level.

    Devil’s Advocate’s Tangent: Then again, what’s wrong with kids achieving at that level, and only at that level? If everyone graduated high school, then the diploma would become even more ridiculously undervalued than it is today.

  9. i admire party planners coz they really know how to make a great and memorable party ::

  10. you don’t need party planners if you are just going to hold a very small party for your personal friends ‘`’

  11. I do not even understand how I finished up right here, however I thought this put up was good. I don’t understand who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you happen to are not already 😉 Cheers!

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