Homeschool Commencement: Standing on the Threshold of Change
- Friday, April 28, 2006
An acquaintance of ours whose children are in a Christian school heard me use the words “homeschool” and “graduation” in the same sentence and told me bluntly, “Homeschoolers don’t graduate.”
Well, not every homeschooling student dons a cap and gown, but at some point they do finish. The line between high school and the world of higher education or career is often less distinct for homeschoolers than it is for others, since our teens may move into these areas at the same time they are “doing high school” at home. Regardless, a point eventually comes when we can look at our child and say, “You are done with high school.”
As Christian homeschoolers, how do we mark this point? Many of us do nothing, having no desire to imitate the ceremonies of a secular education system we’ve chosen not to be part of. This is understandable, but I believe that this special point in time provides us with the unique opportunity to bless our child and remind them of their foundation of faith, while at the same time giving a testimony of God’s goodness and grace to those around us. I think it is an opportunity that we should seize!
High school graduation remains one of the significant “rites of passage” in our culture, though one that is typically devoid of the spiritual significance that marks most other rites of passage. I like to think of a rite of passage as a doorway. It is a meaningful point where we can pause on the threshold of change and look in two directions—past and future. For a Christian, looking back reminds us of God’s faithfulness and gives us the foundation we need to look ahead to the uncertainties of the future with an attitude of humility and faith. As a homeschooling mother, I look back and am awed by the ways that the Lord directed the education of each child, and the people and events He used to do it. I’m humbled by the fact that His leading and His blessings have come in spite of my shortcomings! What an exercise in thankfulness it is for my husband and me to glance over our shoulders and see the Lord’s hand of mercy in our lives and in the lives of our children!
And as we stand on the “threshold” of a new beginning (the word commencement certainly implies a beginning!) we face the unknown. The only genuine hope we have for the future and for our children’s future is found in the Lord, and as we pause to recognize this, it is cause for worship. Looking back with thankful hearts allows us to look forward with faith!
Some families choose to hold a ceremony at home or in their church and make their child’s commencement a public affair with friends and family present. Others keep it a very private affair and make it a memorable family-only time.
When our daughter graduated, we chose to do both. She completed her academic work in early January. She had no desire to participate in a group graduation ceremony, and we did not try to talk her into it; it would have meant “graduation” with a crowd of complete strangers and would have held very little significance for any of us. We wanted to have an Open House for her once the weather warmed up in the spring, but meanwhile, it seemed important to recognize the fact that she had finished her high school work and had done such an excellent job. We wanted to honor her for her many accomplishments and Godly character, and encourage her to continue in her faith.
I created a very special diploma just for her, with wording that gave thanks to God for His enabling grace and included the verse from Proverbs 9 that reads “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” My husband and I made plans to have a family dinner (just the four of us) in late January at a very special restaurant about an hour from home.
On the day before the special date, we made the dinner reservations and got her a corsage. And then . . . it began to snow! January storms in Wisconsin can be nasty, but we decided to take a chance and make the trip anyway, though the drive took quite a while longer.
As it turned out, that snowstorm was part of what made the evening so very special! The fact that the restaurant was almost deserted made it seem like our own private place, and as we sat near the huge windows and watched the snow falling on the softly lit landscape outside, we were blessed by the pianist who played—just for us, it seemed. He didn’t know us and didn’t know that our daughter is also a pianist, but as we enjoyed a fantastic meal he gave us the gift of a musical “history” of her life. He played many of the pieces that had filled our home with joy over the years. Classical waltzes and preludes, selections from theater shows that both of our children had been involved in, and even family favorites like “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof”! We were so blessed by the music. It was something we never could have planned, but we know it was a gift from the Lord for her special night.
Later that year, she personally cranked 8 six-quart batches of homemade ice cream (a Thompson family tradition) and cooked to feed about 90 guests who came to congratulate her at the open house we held in our yard! Both events are special times to remember, and I know that she does not feel “deprived” of a traditional cap and gown ceremony, but has wonderful memories of family and friends gathering to commemorate her accomplishments.
When I think back on these kinds of special events in the life of our family, I am reminded of several passages in the Old Testament where the Lord instructed the Israelites to raise up “standing stones” as reminders of His help. One of these is in I Samuel 7, where we read that after a victory over the Philistines, “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.” (Have you ever sung “Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by thy grace I’m come” and wondered what an Ebenezer is?) God tells the people to place markers in their lives at significant events. They provide “memorials” that give us the opportunity to remember and retell the story of God’s hand in that event.
By “marking” the high school commencement of our homeschoolers, we are not only affirming their accomplishments and giving them a sense of closure, but we also give them an “Ebenezer” in their lives, something to look at and say “Hitherto hath the Lord helped me.” It can be done publicly in a ceremony, it can be done privately through a presentation of the diploma, and it can even be done with the graduation announcement! For the inside of his graduation announcement, our son chose an etching of a clipper ship on the high seas, and selected this favorite verse from Psalm 139: “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” I wrote a verse for the inside that said “We celebrate the blessing of our home school journey by announcing the High School Graduation of our son. We thank God for the privilege it has been to invest in his life and education. Karl will be attending the [name of school] in Minnesota this fall, and we ask for your prayers for him as he begins this new season of his life.” I thought it was interesting that the mother of one of my son’s public-schooled friends (whom I had never met) came up to me and told me that the announcement made her cry!
Just as homeschooling is more than academics, a homeschool “graduation” can signify more than just the completion of a course of study. We can use this as a time to affirm our children’s passage into adult life. The diploma I wrote for our son contained these words: “. . . has not only mastered a body of knowledge pursuant to a High School education, but has also demonstrated Godly wisdom and personal maturity based upon faith in Jesus Christ . . .” The knowledge gained through study was only part of his education; we wanted to recognize the Godly person our son had become through faith. Certainly, we can use the traditional forms associated with graduation, such as the diploma and the announcement, to give a testimony of what God has done in our children’s lives through home schooling.
This verse from Colossians 2:6-7 is a wonderful one for our children as they reach adulthood: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” Like the commencement itself, this verse links the past with the future. The “abounding therein with thanksgiving” comes from having a clear view of God’s dealing with us in the past, and the admonition for the future is also clear—“so walk ye in him.” The middle section of this verse ties the two together: “stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught.” As our children reach the end of their home education and prepare to move on to the next stage of their lives, can we ask for anything more important than that they remain “rooted and built up in him,” continuing to grow in the Lord? I encourage you to make an effort to mark this transition in their lives in a way that magnifies its spiritual significance, blessing them and bearing witness to the grace of our Lord!
Originally published April 26, 2006
Joan Thompson and her husband homeschooled for over 15 years before graduating their youngest in 2005. They look forward to celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2006. Joan is a calligrapher and woodworker, though the family business she began four years ago consumes most of her time now. The Thompsons own Homeschool Diploma.com, which sells graduation supplies to home schools and small Christian schools.
This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr ’06 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, and to request a free sample copy, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com
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