Dear Miss Manners:

I was a guest this summer at two high school graduations, one of a relative, one of the son of a good friend. It has been some years since I last attended a graduation ceremony, and it seems the behavior of guests has changed radically.

Some graduating seniors were wildly applauded, with paper airplanes thrown and banners waving, not only by their friends in the audience, but also, I was amazed to see, by their parents and older relatives. Other graduating seniors walked across the stage in absolute silence.

The rudeness was quite striking, especially as the principal had admonished the audience that no child's moment should be obscured. But he contributed to the problem himself, as a relative of his was among the graduates and he twice took the opportunity to embrace and congratulate the young person on the stage.

The school band was present and played for the entrance and exit of the graduating class, but there was no music at all during the awarding of diplomas--only noisy celebration for those favored, and complete silence for those not.

It was impossible for me to believe the words spoken by the school administrators about how cherished each and every student was by the school and the community as a whole--while observing the treatment of those same students by their school and community. If the treatment was so absolutely rude on graduation day, it must have been much worse during the four years attending that school.

There could have been no better lesson on the need to improve public schools than attending that graduation; in future, I shall back every effort to dilute the power of public schools--the manner in which they wield that power is destructive to the children they purportedly exist to serve.

Do not start withholding your taxes, please. The habit of whooping it up for friends, relatives and school heroes as they receive their diplomas is as common in private schools as in public.

Miss Manners hesitated to condemn this practice when it first began to appear. Graduation is a time for jubilation, and even she is not immune to the charms of youthful exuberance and family pride.

Nor did she exercise herself over the unevenness of the situation as much as you are good-hearted enough to do. By the time students are graduated, they are aware that there are differences--in objectives, as well as results--and what may seem pathetic to you may be a point of pride. You don't know which graduates are relieved that their fond parents are not making spectacles of themselves.

Still, Miss Manners now agrees with you that things have gone too far. The cheering has become more orchestrated than spontaneous, and more competitive than celebratory. School officials will not only have to issue that initial warning--and obey it themselves--but warn the graduates that they will interrupt after the first demonstration to make the request firmly again.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.