Commencement: An Alternative
Sometimes children pay the price for the counter-cultural lifestyle of
their parents. Early on in our home education adventure our little non-schoolers
had to get used to answering questions like, "Why arent you in
school today?" Though in those days (when homeschooling was a novelty)
fabrications like "teachers meeting" were a tempting response
in order to avoid penetrating stares, nowadays the children respond with
a nonchalant "We homeschool," secure in the general acceptance
of the practice.
Another constant question even now is, "What grade are you in?"
For a family that doesnt follow the convention of grades this requires
a little creativity. Our children have learned just to calculate what grade
they would be in if they were inmates of the local school and answer with
that number. No one ever follows up with more questions once youve
told them "10th grade" or whatever.
Last summer my then-seventeen-year-old daughter Sarah began to be asked
a new question (for us), "When are you graduating?" Perhaps knowing
my nonchalant attitude toward traditional customs she began to lobby me
to think about planning some kind of "graduation" come late spring
this year (when, indeed, she would be graduating had she attended school).
She knew that I didnt care for the normal practice of homeschooler
graduations in which the graduates don rented caps and gowns and march the
aisle of a local church to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance"
thus mimicking the very schools they have not used. But she didnt
want to have to answer the newest question with something like, "Well,
Im not actually graduating because my father doesnt really believe
in it, and, yes, you were right to think we homeschoolers are strange and,
no, Im not going on to college, and, well, see my Dad and hell
explain about our being peculiar people
So I committed to allowing her to "graduate" this spring so
that she could provide an easy answer to "When are you graduating?"
All she had to say was, "In May." Now she fit the system and didnt
have to be an apologist for some neo-paleo-idea of her fathers. But
this meant I had to figure out what we were going to do for this "graduation"
to which relatives and friends expected invitations. What follows is our
familys thoughts on this matter of graduation in the context of the
whole matter of the passage from childhood to adulthood, followed by a summary
of what we ended up doing on that special day in May.
Total Life Preparation
For me, the matter of completing certain academic requirements considered
generally as "high school" level is not particularly important.
The standards for graduation vary drastically from school to school (and
home to home), so it doesnt mean a whole lot anyway. Beyond that,
though, the emphasis on academic achievement is itself a questionable one.
Though it is typical of our Greek-influenced culture to emphasize intellectual
(and physical) accomplishments, a more Hebrew (biblical) approach would
be to stress character and wisdom. The most important questions are not
"What is your grade point average?" or "What is your SAT
score?" but rather "Are you developing into a Christ-like man
or woman?" or "Can you use the knowledge you have gained in some
real-life service to God?" Academics are part of preparing for adulthood,
but just a part; so marking a nebulous academic passage may not make the
It would make more sense to devise some rite of passage from childhood
to adulthood that took account of the need for a total preparation for life.
John Thompson has in these pages reported on something he calls "Life
Graduation" (Patriarch #14, "College at Home: For the Glory of
God"). Basically his idea is that the passage from youth to adulthood
should be defined as being adequately trained in every area needed to function
as a mature man or woman of God, not just academics.
We ought to think in terms of a thorough discipleship process rather
than an "education" process. For a child to be well trained and
ready for adulthood he must be discipled in each of his key relationships
in life: to God, to family, to church, and to the world. This training is
accomplished through four essential disciplines: spiritual development,
academic studies, life skills training, and creative arts. Lets look
at these more closely. First, the four key relationships.
Relationship with God. Our chief aim in raising our children is
that they know the living God through faith in Jesus Christ. " Now
this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus
Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3). What does it profit our children
if they graduate with honors from a reputable school but dont know
the Lord? We must pray for them and teach them and love them in order, by
Gods grace, to lead them to salvation and to a walk of holiness in
obedience to his will. "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And
what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to
walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). That is the first lesson our
"home schools" should teach.
Relationship with family. Far more important than teaching algebra
(though we neednt choose one or the other) is teaching a young person
how to properly function in a family. This means training him to honor father
and mother (Eph. 6:1-3), but it also means preparing him to be a husband
and a father himself (or her a wife and mother). Our children are not prepared
for life until they have the training necessary for them to take a spouse
and start a family. They need to understand how to love and respect a spouse,
how to set up house and budget money, how to bear children and train them.
Our culture spends virtually no time preparing youths for the most important
earthly callings they will have. Life preparation for Christian families
ought not follow in that neglect.
Relationship with church. In this New Covenant age church is right
alongside family as a priority for Christians. Im not referring, of
course, to the institutional pseudo-church that runs families ragged with
activities that supposedly "minister" to those families. I have
in mind the people of God gathered under the headship of Christ, with biblical
leadership, with teaching from the Word, with the fellowship of the Spirit
expressed in the ministry of gifts and in the bonds of fervent love, and
with a lifestyle of holiness. There are scores of passages that proclaim
our responsibilities to fellow believers (love one another, serve one another,
teach one another
). Our children must be trained to take their place
within the body of Christ and to join in its mission to disciple the nations
and bring Christ to the world.
Relationship with the world. God made man, male and female, to
multiply in the earth and take dominion over it to the glory of God (Gen.
1:26-28). This is now accomplished through the spread of the gospel and
kingdom of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20). Our families and our churches are the
agencies God is using in this enterprise. Our children should be discipled
in how to use and develop their God-given abilities to take dominion over
Gods creation and spread Christs kingdom. It is a large purpose
for which Christian parents are preparing their children!
Children are discipled to serve in these four key relationships through
training in the four basic disciplines. Lets look at those.
Spiritual development. Growing in our walk with God doesnt
just happen, as many of us have found out the hard way. It takes discipline
and practice. Parents ought to train their children to have a daily devotional
time with the Lord, to study the Bible, to pray. They should teach them
how to apply Gods Word to life. They should train them in the development
of godly character. Parents who themselves walk with God should take their
children on that walk. A Christian youth is not ready for the duties of
manhood or womanhood until he or she knows how to abide in Christ day by
Academic studies. The 3 Rs and all that comes after is a vital
part of discipleship. Our children should excel in all the subject areas
that are taught in other schools. They should learn all about Gods
works in creation and history, which when you think about it covers any
academic subject you can name (cf. Ps. 78:4). They should have more, though.
They should be able to relate each discipline to Gods Word and his
purpose in Christ (v. 5). That is a truly Christian education. "In
[Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col.
Life skills training. Is a young man prepared for life if he has
a diploma in hand but cant fix a light switch or make a simple bookcase?
Is a young woman prepared for life if she has her diploma but cant
cook vegetable stew or bake bread? Raising children to be adults includes
equipping them with the practical skills they need to live day by day and
fulfill their anticipated callings as husbands/fathers and wives/mothers.
Taking dominion means having a hands-on acquaintance with Gods creation
and being able to utilize and even improve the tools of culture that other
men have developed.
Creative arts. Gods creation is not only very useful, it
is also very beautiful. Enjoying that beauty and re-creating things of beauty
is a vital part of what it means to be made in the image of God. Our children
are only fully trained when they have learned to both appreciate and incorporate
beauty in their everyday lives. Young ladies especially should learn to
create homes that reflect a "spirit of loveliness," but the young
men should also be taught that orderliness and attractiveness are created
by God and should be mirrored in all our work. Children should also be exposed
to and led to participate in the fine arts (music, painting, sculpture,
etc.), according to their interests and gifts.
Commencement vs. graduation
So our vision of what it takes to pass from being a youth to being an
adult is rather all-encompassing and makes the mere passing of an academic
hurdle rather inconsequential by comparison. But it was this larger vision
that I wanted to incorporate in Sarahs graduation. I decided to call
the event a "Commencement" (to borrow another graduation-related
term), but it had a new meaning for us. We were marking the commencement
of Sarah upon the journey of godly womanhood, having been adequately prepared
to take on that role (the term is thus the equivalent of Life Graduation).
In her case I decided that she was sufficiently discipled to take this
larger step at her now 18 years of age. It may not always be the case that
a youth is ready for Commencement at age 18. That is especially so for young
men who often need several years of special preparation to be ready to take
on the support of a wife and family.
It may be most helpful to separate the idea of graduation from high school
from that of Commencement as here defined. For the sake of convention (including
inquiring relatives and friends) it may be useful to acknowledge the passing
of the cultural milestone of finishing "high school" level work
(graduation). But the big emphasis would be placed on that moment of passage
when a father and mother declared a son or daughter fully prepared to step
onto the stage of life as a godly man or woman in their own right and, in
particular, ready to take a spouse and set up a home (Commencement).
There could be several ways to mark the traditional graduation: a group
homeschool ceremony with other homeschoolers in the community or the church,
an informal open house in which friends are invited to mark the occasion
with the graduate, a more formal home-based ceremony, etc. Then, when appropriate,
there could be another event to mark the step of Commencement.
I would suggest that we gradually move away from dwelling on "high
school" "graduation" at all in favor of concentrating on
the truly important step of what we are calling Commencement, the formal
entrance onto the path of godly manhood or womanhood. Christian homeschoolers
have an opportunity to help shape the culture here. Lets not just
unthinkingly copy what everybody else does. Lets set a new standard.
Our Commencement Ceremony
Ill share with you what we did just to get you started thinking
about how an alternative might work. Sarah sent out invitations on some
artistic blank-on-the-inside cards on which I had printed the words of invitation
on my laser printer. We announced the event as a 2 p.m. ceremony at our
house (on a Saturday), followed by an open house until 5 p.m. We put up
a rented party tent in our yard across the drive from our house (by Gods
grace, we have a wonderful, park-like, four-acre yard) and placed about
90 chairs under it. Pam (my worth-more-than-rubies mate) and Sarah went
all out creating a spirit of loveliness in the house and throughout the
yards. I contributed to the beauty by placing four speakers outside and
wafting the strains of Bach and Vivaldi all over the grounds.
The front of the program I created read: "Service to acknowledge
the Commencement of Sarah Joyce Lancaster upon the journey of godly womanhood."
Inside was the Order of Service and the words to the hymns we had chosen.
Here is the what the ceremony itself consisted of:
Welcome. Pretty obvious.
Scripture Reading. This was Psalm 67 which I chose because it
is the reference I had engraved in Pams wedding band (25 years ago
our anniversary was 3 days after Sarahs Commencement). Sarah
is the first of the blessings I had asked for using the words of that Psalm,
and she is the first arrow we have prepared (Ps. 127) by which we hope to
see fulfilled our prayer: "may your ways be known on earth, your salvation
among all nations" (67:2).
Hymn. "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (one of Sarahs
The Meaning of Commencement. Here I explained what I have written
about in this article.
Hymn. "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." This is another
of Sarahs favorites; I introduced it as describing the focus of our
preparation of our daughter.
Recognition of Gods Grace in Sarahs Life. Here I had
Pam come up to help. I would read a couple verses at a time of Proverbs
31:10-31, and after each reading Pam would recount some of the accomplishments
the Lord had enabled in Sarahs life, for example: "provides food"
(15) her cooking and baking; "clothed in scarlet" (21)
her sewing; "wisdom, faithful instruction" (26)
her academic achievements; "fears the Lord" (30) her years
of personal devotions, reading through Scripture, Bible memory, etc.
Special Titus 2 Award. Here Sarah and I surprised Pam by giving
her a gift as an expression of appreciation for being a Titus 2 Mom who
had taught this younger woman and as a reminder of the occasion. It was
a "blessing necklace" with little boy and girl charms (with appropriate
birthstones) for each of the six children.
Declaration and Presentation. I read a diploma-like page and handed
the ribbon-tied copy to Sarah. It read:
Declaration and Commendation: Be it known that Sarah Joyce Lancaster,
having completed a program composed of academic studies, life skills training,
and creativity, and having been thoroughly discipled in her relationship
with God, family, church, and world, is hereby prepared to commence upon
the journey of godly womanhood. She is commended to the Body of Christ
as a woman "of noble character
who fears the Lord." (Prov.
31) Affirmed by the undersigned, her parents, this 31st day of May, the
year of our Lord 1997.
Pam and I had signed her copy.
Fathers Prayer and Blessing. I thanked God for his work
in Sarah and prayed about her future as a godly woman. Then I laid my hands
on her and pronounced a blessing based on Num. 6:24-26 and Heb. 13:20,21.
Encouragement from the Church. Several men offered some brief
words of encouragement to Sarah from the Scripture and their experience
with the Lord. I had let the men know in advance of this opportunity.
Hymn. "Now Thank We All Our God." Fitting words with
which to conclude.
Dismissal. After this we served lots of homemade finger foods
and a wonderful sweet tea punch (the recipe came from some friends in Texas).
People sat inside or out, or strolled around the grounds enjoying the fellowship
and music. All in all, a totally memorable day.
Just to give you another quick example: Our Texas friends recently faced
the "graduation" milestone with one of their boys. They decided
to have "A Blessing" instead of the cap and gown ceremony. They
invited 70 friends and family to an evening graduation open house. After
food and visiting they called the people together for a little ceremony
in which the Dad introduced the Mom as the chief teacher; she gave her personal
reflections on her son. The son then systematically expressed his thanks
to all who had helped shaped his life, many of whom were present. Then the
father explained the biblical concept of blessing (many present were not
familiar with this), referring to Genesis 27, 48, and 49, and read a carefully
prepared Blessing for the son, which included references to the sons
character and accomplishments, after which he prayed for him. It was a very
warm, personal time which was a powerful testimony to those present about
the loving family bonds that reached the heart of this son.
As we draw toward a close, let me emphasize my main concerns in writing
First, aim to prepare children fully for life. That preparation
takes a lot more than teaching school subjects. It involves assuring that
they are mature, completely prepared to leave our home and set up their
own and to otherwise take on an adult role in church and society.
Second, dont just copy the patterns dictated by the popular
culture. It makes sense for schools to have graduations; it marks the
termination of that academic program which bound a particular group of people
together in a common pursuit. But home educators have chosen another paradigm
entirely. We dont need to do "school" and we dont
need "graduations". Its OK to do both, but you are free
to do neither. Why copy the ceremonies of mass, institutional schooling?
Third, be creative with alternative rites of passage. We have
the opportunity for a wholly different kind of training, discipleship rooted
in relationship and designed to reach the heart. We also have the chance
to create new rites of passage. Lets be inventive and come up with
some that reflect who we are as unique families. Yours wont look just
like mine, nor should it. Express your family in a way that fits you.
Let us know what alternatives you have created. We will try to pass on
some of the ideas to our readers.