By Kevin Shannahan
Between teaching, working in college admissions and having several nieces and nephews, I have been to quite a few high school graduations throughout Louisiana over the past 20 years. The graduations are a revealing window into the culture of the school and its supporting community. Wealthier schools place a good deal of emphasis on the colleges the graduates will be attending and academic scholarships earned, while poorer and rural schools often do not.
One thing that has consistently bothered me about every single high school graduation I have ever attended has been the treatment of the graduates who enlisted into the military. They are either not mentioned in the program at all (at the tonier schools, it’s as if they feel something went wrong if a kid chooses combat arms over, say, Tulane) or they are fussed over for all the wrong reasons. I have lost count of the times I’ve seen a military recruiter make a presentation at a graduation. They invariably go on about the GI Bill and enlistment bonuses, then hand the graduate an over-sized check. At one graduation I attended, an Army recruiter waved the check in the air while shouting like a demented game show host that he was just giving money away. As a citizen and a veteran, I was appalled by the indignity of the whole thing. The young men and women who enlist out of high school made a serious, adult choice and deserve better than being ignored or to have their decision cheapened by their own service branch before they even put on their first uniform. From Yorktown to Iwo Jima to the Korengal Valley, our nation has been well served by young men and women like those I’ve seen at graduations.
I would like to suggest the following for our parish’s high schools. At a point in the ceremony, have the graduates who enlisted stand and repeat their oath of enlistment. The oath would be administered by a man or woman from our community. There are any number of former and retired officers who served and now lead their lives here. I would also ask their families and any veterans in the audience to stand as well while the oath is given. Every bit as much as a graduate who wins an academic award or scholarship, a future member of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force or Marine Corps deserves a dignified and meaningful recognition.