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When Did Eighth Grade Graduation Become So Over the Top?

The conversation started innocently enough in the midst of planning a family trip for this summer. My soon-to-be eighth grade graduate was asking about possible destinations. I rattled off a couple of ideas: camping or heading to the coast to get away from the oppressive summer heat.

“Can we go somewhere for my graduation present?” he inquired eagerly. I gave him a blank stare. My silence was apparently an opportunity to continue. He described some of the gifts his friends were evidently going to receive for eighth grade graduation. A trip to Disneyland. A big, themed party at a rented hall. The promise of a sizable check to do with as they pleased.

Is 8th grade graduation a big deal? For my eighth grade graduation, I only received a certificate of achievement, a pat on the back, and a dinner out with my parents.

High school and college graduations were celebrated with a family party; our backyard decked out with balloons, white lights strung around the patio, and party platters from the local grocery store lined up buffet style on our dining room table.

I was perplexed and intrigued. Was this type of over-the-top festivity marking the passage from middle school to ninth grade a bonafide thing now? Several hours searching Google and falling down a rabbit hole on Pinterest assured me that it was.

I learned very quickly that as far as eight grade graduations were concerned nowadays, the pomp far exceeded the circumstance.

My investigation also revealed that there are party planners, caterers, and invitation designers who market directly to parents of eighth graders who are more than willing to go all out for graduation celebrations. In today’s world of red carpet parties and limos for elementary school-aged kids and extravagant “promposals” that saturate social media, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

The harsh truth, as I gently explained to my son, is that we can’t afford to give him a lavish gift for every milestone. Perhaps a harsher truth for him to hear was that even if we could afford it, I wouldn’t do it.

It’s not that I don’t believe in rewarding and celebrating hard work and accomplishments. It’s just hard for me to digest the fact that these grandiose celebrations for every landmark occasion have become an expectation and not an exception. I certainly think my son deserves something. He has worked hard all year and improved his grades dramatically. But where do we draw the line? We want to recognize his success, but not to the tune of a month’s salary.

As I watched his face fall, I wondered if I was being unfair by not keeping up with the trend of extravagant celebrations. I quickly came to the conclusion that it would be more unfair if I did indulge him.

There is much that I want to give my children, and most of it doesn’t cost a penny.

The gift of my time, the gift of experiences over material possessions, and the gift of learning to find the joy in simple things — those are the best things I can give them.

He has so many years ahead to experience the finer things in life, and I want him to be able to appreciate those things fully. If I had the capability and desire to provide him with such big ticket gifts for every occasion, what would he have to look forward to later?

So, no, my son, for your eighth grade graduation, you will not be getting a big blowout themed party, a lavish trip, or wads of cash thrown your way by friends and family. You will be getting your family rooting you on for all your hard work. Perhaps dinner at the restaurant of your choice. And another summer to make memories with the people who love you endlessly.

Jennifer Arnold is a freelance writer from Northern California. She has been featured in North State Parent MagazineComplex Child Magazine, and several other publications.

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