It was a touching end-of-school ceremony in June. But try not to use the G word.
“We don’t call it graduation. We call it fifth-grade promotion,” said Principal Wilma Holmes, standing in the multipurpose room of Flower Valley Elementary School as parents fanned themselves with programs adorned with mortarboards and diplomas.
Each year at this time, thousands of younger-than-high-school students in the area celebrate what some critics — and maybe a few restless parents — call graduation inflation, the growth of full-fledged processional ceremonies to mark the end of elementary school.
Although principals say they try to avoid the overt trappings of high school and college ceremonies, graduation vendors say grade schools are increasingly a growth market.
“It’s the fastest growing area of our business,” said Richard Spear, owner of American Cap and Gown in New Jersey. Sales of the smallest caps and the shortest gowns to elementary schools and kindergartens account for nearly half of his nearly $1 million in annual revenue, he said.
“We see it grow when the economy is bad,” Spear said. “In hard times, people like to celebrate good things. We hear that from administrators.”
Each year at this time, educators say they seek a balance between celebrating a milestone and giving their students the impression that the hard work is over.
“I’m trying to walk the middle of the road,” Holmes said. “It’s important that the student be recognized, but I don’t want them to think finishing elementary school is the be-all and end-all.”
Her school’s ceremony is scaled down from years that featured more speakers and sometimes a dinner afterward. She has encouraged the children not to dress too elaborately and, given the recent heat, allowed boys to wear short pants.
“This is really something,” said Esu Ma’at, 40, a Flower Valley father who had crept outside of the crowded auditorium to get a breath of air halfway through the proceedings. “When I finished fifth grade [in New York City], we didn’t do anything.”
Coming to see his daughter HuSia (gleaming white dress, pink ribbons woven into her hair) was Ma’at’s second promotion ceremony of the season. “My nephew just had his kindergarten graduation,” he said.
Almost every elementary school in the Washington area holds some kind of promotion ceremony. The events range from simple daytime assemblies to pizza parties to elaborate evenings with marches and choral music.