All three of our children graduated from Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin. Homestead was consistently ranked near the top of all high schools in Wisconsin for academic excellence. We were blessed to live in a community with such a great public high school. Homestead rivaled most private high schools in our area.
During the years our kids went to Homestead there were roughly 1,300 students; so graduating classes were typically about 300-350 kids. Because of the large number of graduates, each year at the graduation ceremonies they would ask all those in attendance to hold their applause until ALL students received their diplomas.
This worked. People complied. Except for the families of black students. Homestead had a minority student population of about 10% – most of those kids were black. There were Hispanic and Asian kids but they probably made up less than 2% of the total student body. So while most of the graduating class’s families sat politely quiet about 8% of those in attendance would cheer loudly for their graduates. I never found this particularly disturbing but it was always interesting to me – there’s probably a sociological study in there somewhere. The clapping and cheering likely only added an additional 20 – 30 minutes to the graduation ceremonies. So no big deal (or so I thought).
Our youngest child Blake was (and still is) an enigma! He was a National Merit Semifinalist. He was offered a full-ride scholarship to Ball State University in Indiana. He had been accepted (and enrolled) into the University of Wisconsin. And yet, we didn’t know until the day of his graduation whether or not he would actully graduate! It seems that he had not done most of his homework or term papers for the last quarter of his senior year. Furthermore not until we received his progress reports (lack of progress is more like it) did we even know that there was a problem.
Needless to say, graduation day for Blake had us on ‘pins and needles’. What would we tell grandparents that had made the trip from Missouri? What would it mean if he didn’t graduate? Would Wisconsin withdraw their acceptance? Would he have to stay home another year? God help us all!
But Blake turned in all his missing assignments; took make-up tests, finished term papers. And we waited. Because grading wasn’t complete until the Friday before Sunday’s graduation, we wouldn’t know whether his “make-up work” would work.
So on Sunday we sat in the Field House listening as names were announced (and I was silently cursing the fact that our last name begins with a “W” because we had to wait through nearly the entire alphabet). We sat for what seemed like days – and then a miracle: “BLAKE WILHELM”! And then the cheers! Why were people cheering for Blake? And why was it all the black families? And with that, I witnessed another miracle, Blake parading in with Honor Cords; not only had he graduated but he apparently managed to do work good enough to make the honor roll. I was torn between being relieved, proud and wanting to strangle him with those gold cords!
And why were the black families cheering for him anyway? Did they know what he had managed to pull off? Did they admire his ability to overcome his obstacles? Or did they just love Blake because he’s such a great kid? NO – none of the above. Turns out that Blake had gone to every black kid in his graduating class and asked them to ask their families to cheer when (if) his name was announced.