School Districts Consider Banning Graduation Ceremonies for ‘Equity’ Reasons!

Kues /
Kues /

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is at the center of a contentious debate as it considers significant changes to its graduation ceremonies. The proposed policy suggests replacing traditional graduation ceremonies with what is being termed “commencements,” all in the pursuit of equity and inclusion.

The proposed policy redefines “commencement” as a celebration of student achievement that encompasses all students, particularly those facing historical and present challenges within the education system. As outlined in the policy’s FAQ, the rationale behind this shift emphasizes the diversity of students’ educational journeys and advocates for celebrating all experiences, including those historically underserved by the system.

According to the policy, including all students in graduation ceremonies is seen as leaving out recognition of students’ diverse achievements. The proposed changes reflect a more inclusive approach, aligning with the Board’s more significant commitments to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

The push for DEI gained national attention in response to tragic events like the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. However, just three years later, the term DEI has become a target, blamed for various societal issues, from bank collapses to incidents of antisemitism on college campuses.

Anti-diversity activists, like Edward Blum and organizations linked to Stephen Miller, have long opposed DEI efforts, framing them as discriminatory. This narrative has gained traction, leading to increased skepticism even among those who support fairness and inclusivity.

During the pandemic, DEI advocates pushed for change, sometimes alienating those with questions or differing perspectives. This lack of dialogue created space for mischaracterizations of DEI principles, like the misconception that it favors unfair advantages for specific groups.

Moving forward, there’s a call to refocus on DEI’s core principles: casting a wide talent net, ensuring fair opportunities, and creating inclusive environments. It’s about closing gaps in access and promoting understanding rather than drawing divisive lines between pro-DEI and anti-DEI factions.

While the proposal maintains that student awards will still be given, an emphasis is placed on these awards reflecting the district’s values of learning, equity, engagement, and innovation. This shift implies acknowledging a broader range of achievements, not solely academic ones, and moving away from gender-based distinctions.

One logistical consideration is the possibility of some awards being presented at a separate ceremony from the main commencement event. However, critics argue that this could dilute the significance of these awards and diminish their impact on student motivation and recognition.

Notably, the proposal retains elements such as the Canadian national anthem and Native American land acknowledgments during these commencement events, indicating an effort to preserve certain traditional aspects while modernizing others.

Expert opinions on the matter vary. Jacqueline Specht, from Western University’s Canadian Research Centre on Inclusive Education, acknowledges the positive step of including students with special needs in graduation ceremonies but cautions against distributing awards merely for inclusivity, stressing the importance of maintaining integrity and honesty in recognizing student achievements.

The proposed changes have sparked a broader conversation about the balance between inclusivity and the value of traditional recognition in academic achievements. Critics argue that while inclusivity is crucial, it should not come at the cost of diminishing the significance of hard work and merit-based recognition.

The concern is not about excluding anyone but rather about ensuring that achievements are celebrated based on merit and the effort put into earning them. The idea that everyone should receive equal recognition regardless of their accomplishments can be seen as a disservice not only to those who have excelled but also to the essence of competition and striving for excellence that drives progress in society.

It’s essential to foster an environment that encourages individuals to work hard, set goals, and achieve based on their abilities and dedication. Diluting the significance of academic achievements in the name of inclusivity risks sending the wrong message about the value of hard work and the pursuit of excellence.

As discussions continue within the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, stakeholders, including parents, educators, and students, actively engage in the dialogue surrounding these proposed changes. They highlight the importance of finding a balance that genuinely serves the interests of all students while upholding the value of academic excellence.