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for more than a quarter century


We have Erin home for almost four days. She made the trip back from Montreal for her high school graduation weekend. While she’s been living there this year studying violin and playing in an orchestra, she’s officially still been a student within our local school district, earning credit towards her graduation diploma through independent study in a variety of formats.

Even in her earlier high school years she had been enrolled technically full-time but granted credit for a lot of her home-based learning, working at the school part-time mostly in the independent study program, and doing an occasional in-the-classroom credit. So she didn’t feel a strong sense of connection and loyalty to her fellow graduates, but with scholarship and bursary awards influencing the decision we decided it was the right thing to have her return and participate in the hoopla.

The trip back has been short, because she’s got her last violin lesson of the year and her last orchestra concert in the next week. She’ll write two of her three final exams at the school tomorrow, and then we’ll make the four-hour drive to our airport of choice to get her on the plane.

I grew up in what would have been called a small city, but which in my current rural environment would be considered quite large indeed, and my high school graduating class was about 400 in number. Graduation was a minor event. I don’t honestly recall whether I participated or not. I think I have a vague memory of crossing the stage at school to receive something, but it may be that I’m recalling some other awards assembly.

Well, things are rather different where we live now. Erin’s grad class is seven in number. It’s possible that only three of them may ever take another academic course in their lives. For this community and for the grad class itself, the completion of high school is a momentous event. The grads have been planning and fund-raising all year. Families may spend several hundred dollars on dresses and accoutrements. Extended family arrive from far and wide. Grad gifts by parents can include things like vehicles, and it seems it’s not unusual for casual friends to present graduates with gifts.

A large portion of the community attends the Grad Ceremony. There are numerous scholarships distributed amongst the tiny number of graduates. Each graduate walks to the stage like a rock star, complete with personalized soundtrack a biographical sketch. There are childhood and baby photos projected on a huge screen to the accompaniment of yet another personalized soundtrack. The class history is presented, with a detailed accounting of the highlights of each of the thirteen years of school. There’s also a Promenade of Graduates and Escorts at a school assembly the day before. And the night before there’s a Banquet for graduates and up to twenty of their invited guests. A dance follows. There are extended photo sessions at the gardens for grads, family and friends. There’s a Grad Tea after the actual ceremony to which the community is invited. And it all wraps up with a huge boozy party that night.

Our family has scant proclivity for celebratory hoopla at the best of times, but with our unconventional educational choices, Erin’s nominal but essentially very-part-time participation in school for just the past four years, and her departure to begin the next big step in her education having taken place a year ago, it all felt a little odd. To not take it seriously, to not ooze enthusiasm and excitement, would seem like a slap in the face of community values. But really, we couldn’t bring ourselves to put it all on to the nines.

So we tried to walk a middle line. We submitted the baby photos, she chose her soundtrack music. She bought a grad dress ($40, including shipping, off eBay). She returned to BC. She participated. She invited her immediate family to the grad banquet. She did the Promenade at the school assembly, with her brother as a stand-in “escort.” She smiled and looked beautiful and comfortable on stage during the epic-length ceremony.

Sophie and Noah had their final three Corazón performances during the Grad Ceremony … in Nelson. So they didn’t attend: only Fiona, Chuck and I were there. We didn’t even bring a camera, though we toyed with the idea of bringing one as a prop just so we wouldn’t look bad.

And after the ceremony we peeled out after a few minutes at the Tea and went to Nelson to catch a Corazón performance. Erin got the chance to hug all the Corazón people she’d been missing all year, and then we went out to dinner, picked up the local Corazón kids after their final performance, drove home late and skipped the booze-up.

Erin netted the better part of $4K in scholarship money at the Grad Ceremony. Combined with her cushy admission scholarship from McGill, she’s sitting pretty. She’ll spend the summer at Canada’s National Youth Orchestra again. And then in the fall she’ll finally be enrolled in the BMus Performance program at McGill, where she’ll be able to continue studying with her wonderful teacher and will be able to have the full immersion in music in an academic environment.

This past year has certainly not been without its challenges. The organizational wrinkles that come of having a legal minor living several provinces away with neither a host family nor an educational institution to provide support are not to be underestimated. But she has coped admirably, and thrived musically and personally. And the net result is that she is miles ahead of typical high school graduates in terms of preparedness for living and studying on her own next year.

She knows the city. She knows her teacher. Her solo repertoire is planned out for the next year. She has a great place to live and knows the intricacies of the transit system. She knows how to get health care. She knows the good grocery stores. She knows the dodgy neighbourhoods, the friendly cafés, the quirky laundry machines. She knows where to easily get printer cartridges and bow rehairs and how to shop and cook and clean and organize for herself. She knows how to structure her time for practicing, study, exercise and daily-living tasks. She has a network of friends and acquaintances within and outside of the McGill Faculty of Music.

Now it just remains to enjoy her summer at NYO and dive headlong into university.

Postscript mommy brag: Upon snooping in the letters describing her local scholarships, it appears she won the one for the student with the top marks. And I only heard via her school principal, who was in touch with her violin teacher that Erin’s McGill audition placed her #3 in a field over over 50 at what is currently the best-regarded string performance program in the country.




9 responses to “Graduating”

  1. Shonda Avatar

    I have been reading your blog, your website before that, and your postings on a long forgotten homeschooling message board on a now defunct (I think) parenting website, well, for my entire homeschooling life. Thirteen years, maybe? You are the one that introduced me to unschooling and I have watched Erin grow up. We don't do any type of graduation ceremony and all of our friends don't either, but it does hold something sentimental about it. Maybe it just represents the passage of time? Anyway, congrads on the scholarships and good luck with all of the good endeavors. :)Thanks for sharing some of your homeschooling and life through all these years. You have always inspired me!

  2. SnoopGirl a.k.a. Crystal Avatar

    All that at 17 – WOW! Congratulations on all your accomplishments.

  3. Miranda Avatar

    She has turned 18, though not until several months after moving away.

  4. Erin J Avatar

    I too began reading Your blog years ago and also feel as though I've watched Erin grow up. I originally found your blog while desperately searching for Suzuki violin resources for my struggling 4yo beginner. I read about Erin learning and stopping and learning again at age 4. I read on and learned about unschooling, which we now do also, with our own flavourings, of course. Your blog encouraged me then, with my strong-willed little 4yo and it encourages me now. Your eldest has achieved so much, and mine is polishing her Book 2 pieces in preparation for a recital, while the Littles are busily learning Twinkle A. Pretty cool, really, and I'm so delighted to hear how well Erin is doing. Not that I had much doubt. She seems pretty capable of doing whatever she takes it into her head to do. 🙂

  5. Meg Avatar

    I, too, am a long-time reader both here and at the iVillage board. Erin is certainly an amazing young woman and the others seem to be doing great as well. I appreciate your sharing your family with us all. All the best to Erin as she continues this wonderful journey. I look forward to hearing about her future and perhaps seeing her perform in NYC some day!

  6. Anna Avatar

    Me too, me too! I've been benefitting from your wisdom in my own parenting journey, watching you respect and support Erin (and her siblings) all this way, learning from you how unschooling and Suzuki can go hand in hand. Now I've got a Bk2er and a pre-twinkler, and visit your “why it's worth it” post pretty regularly. I'll take this graduation as an opportunity to thank you for your enormous and helpful body of work, here and on, and for publicly modeling a kind of mothering I aspire to. Congratulations to Erin on all her accomplishments!

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Well done Erin. What an amazing young woman a testament to her parents I'm sure.
    One question though, Why did you participate in the graduation ceremony when it appears you have so much negativity towards it. In a way your blog post has made a mockery of the whole thing and degraded the other graduates. I feel you did it as a money grab.
    Too me thats the hypocrisy of homeschoolers.You don't want any of the stuff schools offer until it benefits you. This is just my opinon of course.
    You even have the nerve to say most of the other graduates will not amount to much after high school! This might not be what you intended but I would be very offended if I was a member of one of their families and reading your [post. Shame on you.

  8. Miranda Avatar

    Anonymous, the money would have been awarded whether she attended or not. It was simply the right thing to do to attend. Partly to validate the experience of the other grads, for whom it was an important occasion, partly to give the community in general and the school staff in particular the opportunity to celebrate Erin in the manner they expected, and partly to graciously accept the scholarship money in person. We all felt it would have been rude to thumb her nose at the whole occasion by skipping it. Financially speaking it was expensive for her to attend: she had to pay $800 for flights just to get here.

    As to the other grads “not amounting to much” I said nothing of the sort — that's your bias you're reading into what I wrote. I said that it's possible three will never take another academic course, and I said that because four have no plans for further academic study and alternate plans which will preclude post-secondary academics at least in the medium-term. They have clear plans and ambitions for themselves which do not involve academics. They're planning service-industry- and trades-oriented learning, whether formal or (mostly) informal. I see some of them being very successful indeed. But their choices for their futures mean that leaving high school represents a very significant completion of a phase of academic study. They may come back to academics in later life, there's no way to predict of course, but at this point they're done with it. High school graduation is therefore a more meaningful closing of a book for them.

    We get that it's important to the other students. That's part of why she attended. They're friends of hers. Erin's circumstances have meant the occasion was poorly timed to represent an important passage for her. Her more significant “graduation” celebration was the major recital she did last year before she moved away. That was a real giving back to the community (as it was a fund-raising benefit concert) and a celebration of the culmination of her primary area of learning prior to moving away to pursue it at a higher level.

    You wrote “that's the hypocrisy of homeschoolers. You don't want any of the stuff schools offer until it benefits you.” Might I ask why school-going families have their children attend school, if not to benefit them? Isn't that the point of school? We as taxpayers pay to run this institution that benefits children?

    If you're implying that Erin has contributed nothing to the school, you're correct that this year she has contributed little because she hasn't been here. On the other hand, she has demanded very little, having required absolutely no direct teaching time, entirely teaching herself from the written material. But in past years she contributed a lot. In fact one of the awards she won was for her contributions to school and community.

  9. Beccy Avatar

    Well done to Erin on the scholarship money, and the decision to participate on the middle line sounds a good one to me, showing respect to the school colleagues for whom this is Big Deal, even though I am just as baffled by hoopla for completing high school (we don't even call it graduation here, that is reserved for university graduation). I wish more of my school colleagues were taught that respect, where one day/evening of one's life is sacrificed for the respect of another person. It definitely sounds like Erin is poised to take on university, well prepared by this year.