The graduation ceremony has never been more important than during these uncertain times.

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Deveonte Joseph wore his high school graduation robe to protests in St. Paul because he wanted to spread positivity. Photo cred: CNN

“My dear terrified graduates, you are about to enter the most uncertain and most thrilling part of your lives.”

-Lin-Manuel Miranda

In 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame, spoke at the graduation ceremony at the University of Pennsylvania, expressing the conflicting emotions the gowned graduates most likely felt. Only four years later, graduates are even more terrified. COVID-19, the econmic meltdown and riots in response to racist police violence, makes 2016 look as uncertain as taxes. Part of the paralyzing uncertainty for graduating high school seniors everywhere includes the on-again/off-again, hybrid-, virtual-, socially-distanced or non-existent graduation ceremony. Sure, these seniors will miss other important milestones (my senior, Ceci, has shed tears over prom, senior ditch day, and grad night); there are other ceremonies for children and adolescents, significant coming-of-age ceremonies like bar and bat mitzvahs, Confirmation, and Quinceneras; and, of course, the world explodes into a new crisis every week, so why should we bother donning those ridiculous caps and gowns? …

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My fifth grader having fun as a unicorn.

Last week, when I asked my fifth grader what he wanted to be for Halloween, he said “a unicorn” without hesitation.

Apart from the non-traditional gender thing which I so appreciate about that choice, I also loved the fact that I wouldn’t have to buy another costume; my son has been a unicorn for the past two years. He puts on the unicorn onesie, does a stone-faced parade lap around the school, and later runs around gathering a pillow-case full of candy that I will give away or throw away behind his back a few days later.

This is what Halloween has become: a meaningless “black Friday” for the candy industry, a pre-teen and teenage sexuality exploration of the “slut” genre (we actually own a slutty Alice in Wonderland costume); and another example of the insensitivity and offensiveness that has become the hallmark of our times. Halloween is a soulless holiday and we should at least consider alternatives, especially in our schools. …

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Governor Northam’s blackface Michael Jackson in the 1980s was insensitive and ignorant (I have my own epic 80s fail) but I believe it’s what’s happening now that should matter.

I warn my teenager daughters that their snaps, texts and tweets — the modern-day equivalent of the handwritten notes I passed across high school physics class –are so much more dangerous than their predecessors because texts and social media posts last forever. In the last couple of weeks, the Governor of Virginia and I learned how wrong we adults are on this issue and how naïve we were to think our pasts would not haunt us as badly as a tenth grader’s late-night sexting pic.

You must be familiar with Governor Ralph Northam and the “blackface” picture on his medical school yearbook page from the 1984. In a coincidence of epic 80s proportions, last weekend my high school friend unearthed a note from 1986 in which I supposedly called another classmate a “f_g.” When she told me about the homophobic comment, I instinctively responded that couldn’t have been me. …


Shanti Bright Brien

Lawyer to criminals, mother of mayhem, daughter of cowboys and Indians. Police reformer, champion of fairness, professor at Mills. I’m on insta @slow.po

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