Early to the modern homeschooling movement, I graduated in the last century, the sole high school graduate in my homeschooling group. To make it about more than just me, the graduation incorporated two 8th grade students into the short ceremony. But I was it—I gave a speech, sang, selected my own high school commencement speaker, and refused a cap and gown for a new dress, which I much preferred. It was a true reflection of what homeschooling was in the (cough) 80s. It was truly an individualist’s paradise.
My husband was also homeschooled, but in his family, there was no pomp or fanfare—no ceremonies or parties. In mine, education was important, and a proper graduation was a way to let early critics of our homeschooling journey know that I had a diploma (we even got a state official to sign it for legitimacy) and that I was going to college.
As we neared the end of our homeschool journey with our oldest, Ben, it was a foregone conclusion for me that he would participate in our local homeschool group’s graduation program. Our area has a well-established graduation ceremony where the high school junior students and their families are asked to contribute the bulk of the labor for the event, and then hold the decision-making reins and reap the benefits for the coming year’s ceremony, their graduation. We went through that process, with Ben and I both helping with the reception.
In the fall of last year, I realized I needed to find out if a ceremony was important to Ben. He had watched most of the ceremony, but it still seemed like my idea more than his. At the end of the fall meeting when the coordinator laid out the plans to seniors and their families, I remember asking him on the drive home: “Do you want to do this?” He said he hadn’t particularly cared about it, but something about being in a room with other seniors and realizing he was really nearing the end of this stage of life made him excited. I realize it could have gone the other way, but I am grateful he wanted to (and both of his sisters loved the ceremony, so I have two more of these in my future!).
Homeschool graduations are like homeschooling, varied and diverse. There isn’t one template that is going to work for every homeschooling family, co-op, or group. Some state-based homeschooling groups run huge graduations where hundreds of students join and walk in cap and gown. And, somewhere out there, is the stand-alone ceremony like mine, where one student has the spotlight for a couple of hours of celebration. My son’s graduation was in-between: small enough for individuality, but big enough to sense shared community and experience.
If your local group is considering putting together a graduation, expect some bumps in the road. Homeschoolers are unique; we all have slightly different priorities, and we don’t always share the same vision for the details. Expectations need to be hashed out early, and the sooner you come to decisions on the major ceremony details, the better. And every year, families who planned to participate end up dropping out, and others join at the 11th hour, after most of the decisions have been made.
Our homeschool group has developed a template over the years with details on meeting dates, roles, and financial expenses. This information is kept in a master notebook that is handed down from one coordinator to the next.
Here are couple of key decisions that planners need to determine:
- Who can participate? Our group allows anyone in the area to join with the understanding that the homeschooling group hosting has a statement of faith and a protocol that must be followed.
- What costs are going to be mandatory and split between everyone? Are we going to pay for a speaker? A photographer? A videographer? Some fees must be covered by everyone, like a facility fee and the cost of printing a program. But some families will want the moon while others won’t want to pay for anything extra. Finding a happy medium that everyone can agree on is important.
- Will everyone have caps and gowns or receive diplomas? What colors? Our group has well-established class colors and has allowed families to donate back the gowns they purchased through the years, meaning that families who don’t want to buy a cap and gown can use one of the donated ones and just purchase a tassel for the current graduation year.
- Will there be a reception? How will the labor be handled? Who orders the cake? How much punch should we make? Who orders the decorations? Who gets everything ready?
- Who does the work? I recommend our group’s protocol with high school junior families do the labor. We always have seniors who walk in and participate at the last minute, but they can’t nominate a class speaker, motto, or verse. They can vote once those who put in the labor the year before have made nominations. This allows us to be inclusive, but keep the decision-making limited to those who committed early and did the bulk of the work.
There are many other decisions to be made as well, and a committed, organized coordinator is a must.
Near the end of our graduation ceremony, the Master of Ceremonies asked the students to turn and clap for their teacher/parents. As my son turned and applauded his dad and me, I knew he was grateful we had this ceremony to acknowledge the years we both put into this moment. And I was so grateful to be able to celebrate our journey together.
How does your community celebrate homeschool graduations?
For a great document to use as a guide, see our homeschool group’s guide here. (Thanks to Tanya Hayes and Cheministry for permission to share it.)
If you're looking for graduation supplies, check out the HSLDA Store.
Photo credit: Header image, iStock. Following images courtesy of author.