The Grand Finale

COORDINATING A HOMESCHOOL COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY

By Cindy Morris

The lights dimmed. On the black screen our daughter’s name appeared in large white letters. As her baby picture received “awws” from the crowd, we ascended the three carpeted steps to the stage. Several slides of her growing up years, and finally, her smiling senior picture followed. The lights brightened and she handed to me a single crimson rose.     Because the number of Indiana students graduating from homeschools is growing, support groups around the state are coordinating their own special commencement ceremonies to honor seniors and their parents. The IAHE would like to offer several ideas to help your support group organize graduation activities especially designed to fit your group.    

A Personal Touch
While a class of five may not sound very exciting, it is possible to create a ceremony so personal that Grandpa will wipe a tear from his eye. Small classes allow additional time for each student and his or her parents to be recognized for their accomplishments. My own support group has arranged a ceremony for our graduates since 1995, each class ranging in size from two to nine students. Even the class of two drew a crowd of nearly 150 family members and friends!

Where to Begin

Shortly after school starts in the fall, put a notice in your local newletter that all parents of graduates are urged to attend an organizational meeting. The parents want to honor their students at this ceremony, so they should make the decisions and foot the bill. If you don’t ask for the graduates’ input, you will be able to create a ceremony with an element of surprise for them.    At the organizational meeting, choose a capable coordinator to oversee the planning process. The coordinator will in turn delegate many of the various responsibilities to other willing workers. Some parents may want their students to participate in the activities but the parents are not able to help with the work. This should not be a problem as a committee of three to four couples will be able to produce a memorable event.
Other items to discuss at the first meeting are:  HEI article bar
Date and time for the ceremony – It may be necessary to avoid dates of local public school or college graduations.
Location – Consider price, accessibility, lighting, sound, and the size of the auditorium.
Guest Speaker – Choose someone who shares your worldview, is supportive of home education, and has a message applicable to graduates.
Music – Do you want hymns, contemporary Christian, classical, jazz or a combination? Set a dollar amount per graduate to collect from the parents to cover costs.
Does your group want a slide or Power Point presentation of the graduates?
What other activities would you like to add? Senior Banquet, Class Party, class gatherings throughout the year? Because most homeschools will graduate one student at a time, additional activities will help each to feel a part of the graduating group. Choose volunteers to research each of these areas and report to the cordinator.
Set the next meeting date for about two months in the future. In the meantime, the volunteers do much of the footwork. If the committee agrees on a particular speaker to invite, location, and date, these may be set immediately and a simple update mailed to each of the other committee members.

Expenses

There will be several expenses involved in offering a nice commencement ceremony but these will vary from year to year, depending upon the talents and goals of the parents and the amount of cash collected. In other words, the more students in the class, the more cash you will have in your budget. My support group collects $50.00 from each family of a participating graduate. This may not be enough in all cases, especially if there are multiple families graduating more than one student each. Costs will vary depending upon the location of the ceremony.
The following expenses may be included in your event and should be budgeted:
  • Guest speaker’s honorarium
  • Building rental/ janitor’s fee
  • Program covers – A parent or student may design these or purchase bulletin covers from a Christian book store.
  • Printing of Bulletins
  • One rose per student for the mothers
  • Music
  • Person to operate sound and lighting
  • Expenses of slide or Power Point presentation
  • Other expenses, such as a diploma, cap and gown, and announcements, should be covered by the parents for their own student. My support group allows each family to select their own colors for these items because the ceremony is honoring several individual schools.

After all ceremony expenses are paid, the balance is carried over to the next year which may be an extra small class with limited finances.

If you choose to hold a Senior Banquet or other special activity, the expenses should be kept separate from those of the commencement. It is preferable that the Senior Banquet be self supporting, setting the price per plate once all other expenses are tabulated.

Music Considerations

While tastes in music vary greatly it is possible to present a ceremony that will be edifying to all who attend. Avoiding extremes in music will help you achieve this goal.    With your budget in mind, consider whether there is a musician in your support group that would enjoy providing music for the prelude, processional, and recessional. It is especially memorable if a current homeschool student or sibling of one of the graduates plays for the ceremony. Perhaps an ensemble composed of one musical family in your group is available. Musicians who have had little exposure will charge less than those who frequently play for special events. Many will accept a reasonable donation.  Ask the graduates if any of them are interested in presenting special music during the ceremony. One year the seven graduating girls, who had become good friends at organized senior activities throughout the year, sang together for their graduation. Another year a senior boy played his guitar and sang a song he had written while his graduating friend accompanied him on the drums. If there will be a slide or Power Point presentation of the students’ growing up years, carefully plan the background music, whether live or taped. Timing is a big issue in making the presentation flow without awkward gaps.

The Big Event

Let’s walk through a typical homeschool commencement ceremony together.  When we enter the building, we are met at the door by three or four homeschoolers of high school age serving as ushers. Some of these young people are siblings of the graduates. Others will be graduating next year. Having received a program from an usher, we take our seats, avoiding the marked row where the graduates will sit. As the pianist, identified in the program as a homeschooler, plays upbeat classical and religious music, we read the biographies of the graduates, each telling of his past experiences and future plans. A special touch is that all have included their favorite scripture verses at the end of their paragraphs. It is clear that these students have character and direction in their lives.    There is a pause in the music. Suddenly “Pomp and Circumstance” rings throughout the auditorium so we rise to honor the graduates as they march single file into the room. They take their places in the reserved row. One of the Board of Directors of the support group presents the welcome and opening prayer.     Rising from their seats, a pair of graduates makes their way to the stage. The young man sits at the keyboard as the girl picks up her violin. For the next several minutes we are blessed by their talents.    The guest speaker is introduced. Encouraging and inspiring, his message stirs the graduates (and us) to walk with the Lord and seek His guidance for their futures.
Once again, the music starts. The lights dim and one of the graduates approaches the stage with her parents. As we view several slides, she meets her parents near the podium. The lights brighten. The music fades. She hands to her mother a single rose. Stepping to the microphone, her father presents a short speech, a blessing of sorts, specially written for this daughter. She is given an opportunity to speak also, but she is so touched by what her father has said that she must decline. Placing a diploma in her hands, he embraces her warmly. The mother hugs her too, wipes a tear from her cheek, and they leave the stage together as the lights dim for the next graduate. Soon all the graduates have received their diplomas. A member of the board of directors asks them to stand to their feet for the moving of the tassels. We bow our heads for a closing prayer. Then with thunderous applause, we salute the graduates as they march out of the auditorium to the lively cords of the recessional. The ushers dismiss the crowd one row at a time to greet the graduates in the receiving line. Each wearing a cap and gown in a color of his choice, the graduates stand tall and proud for the milestone they have just reached.
This has been a ceremony we will not soon forget!