Grad night

What to discuss with your teen before grad night

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My favourite picture of my daughter’s grade eight graduation is of a row of young women’s feet sporting gorgeous stilettos. My daughter’s were metallic gold, opened-toed and high enough to make you lightheaded. I remember the principal got up to say a few words about academic achievement. Then he turned to the kids and said, “I must say, you look fabulous!”

The kids cheered. It was an acknowledgement that the night was about getting all gussied up, having a fabulous time and feeling grown up enough to go to high school.

Leslee Blair has presided over two decades’ worth of grade eight graduation ceremonies. She’s seen it all, from the limousines and formal gowns to the simple community celebration where the teachers spring for pizza after the diplomas are handed out.

“It’s a rite of passage, a chance to have one last hurrah with friends they may have been with since kindergarten,” says Blair, now principal of North Shore Public School in Keene, Ont.

How elaborate grade eight graduations are really depends on the traditions and culture of the school and community, says Blair. She says the ’80s and ’90s were the peak years for over-the-top graduations — and an impetus for some schools to set limits. Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board in Ontario has had a policy in place since 1998 to ensure graduations are “simple and age-appropriate.” It stipulates that ceremonies “be affordable for all students and family-oriented, that such extravagances as limousines and formal attire be discouraged, and that alcohol not be served.”

Excuse me, alcohol? While that may seem a no-brainer, according to the 2005 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey, 31 percent of grade-sevens reported drinking in the previous year, so ensuring the graduation festivities don’t involve alcohol means that parents need to be vigilant.

Blair says grads are best when the parent council and the teaching staff are involved in the planning. “Our job as parents and teachers is to support the kids by making the event special, but, at the same time, setting limits so that it’s safe and age-appropriate.” Here are her suggestions:

It’s about the dress “How often do they get to dress to the nines at this age?” says Blair. That doesn’t mean you have to spend hundreds of dollars, and choosing something that’s age-appropriate may take some negotiation, especially with girls anxious to strut their style. Breymann Cameron says when her daughter Seline chose her dress, she brought along a friend to help. “What she chose looked really nice — and very grown up! It was a shock to see her in it.”

Boys don’t tend to focus on the clothes so much, says Blair. Sometimes they’ll go for a tux or a jacket and tie. Others might prefer dress pants — and some lime green sneakers or a crazy tie.

Then there’s the dance “It’s a really big deal for the kids,” says Blair. “Of course, they don’t actually dance much. Most of them sit at the tables and talk about what they’re wearing, but they have a fabulous time.”

The night is young… Cameron says when her daughter graduated, there was a lot of talk about what the kids would do after the dance. “We offered a solution where the girls could have a big sleepover and movie night. The kids were in the attic, and we stayed downstairs. Cameron says she wasn’t concerned about alcohol. “It’s not like we checked bags or anything. But we know these kids pretty well and we were supervising — at a distance.”

As for my daughter, she says there were two rules for her graduation — no drinking and the kids had to be able to be “on their own.” The metallic gold stilettos don’t get worn very much, but they have a place of honour on the shelf in her room.

Grad party ideas

Is the after-party at your house? Here are some ideas:

• Rent a karaoke machine or suggest a limbo contest.
• Supply water guns and balloons after the kids have changed out of their finery.
• Set out the ingredients for make-your-own pizzas or sundaes, or rent a chocolate fountain.
• Offer T-shirt signing or disposable cameras for keepsakes.