I learned some interesting Louisiana history from my father this afternoon. As we spoke about my daughter not being able to have a formal high school graduation like others around the world, he said, “She’ll be like me. I didn’t have a high school graduation either.” I learned that although Brown v Board of Education had passed in 1954 and a young Ruby Bridges had been one of the first to “integrate” schools in New Orleans in 1960, many schools were still very much segregated (like they are in Chicago today). In 1970 when my father was a high school senior, President Nixon threatened that public schools wouldn’t continue to receive federal funding if they didn’t integrate, though he backtracked on integrating the suburbs, hence mass busing.
Many parts of Louisiana hadn’t fully integrated schools so they started the process of desegregating the public schools where the black and white boys were placed together and the black and white girls were placed together in schools. My father said that the decision resulted in 18 weeks of little to no learning, lots of school fights between races, mass truancy and chaos, and ultimately, no graduation ceremonies across Louisiana. Students were told what day to pick up their diplomas and that was that. No pomp and no circumstance. I’m a 1970s baby and it is such recent history and it’s no wonder why we still have problems integrating and creating more equitable schools today. The law means nothing if people don’t stand behind it and if our public officials and school administrators don’t uphold it.
I’m happy that my daughter attends one of the most integrated high schools in the city of Chicago, but I know that this is still a huge issue and that race and class educational disparities run amok in my city and across the nation. Despite the differing reasons that neither my dad had nor my daughter will have a senior graduation ceremony as a capstone event, it’s unfortunate regardless and shows me that we still must fight for what futures we want beyond this historical moment.
Congratulations to all of the kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, and college graduates of 2020! We celebrate and honor you and hope that your next steps are on solid and fertile ground beyond COVID-19. Either way, it’s still up to you, what you’re going to do with the soil you’ve been given. Remember to stand on the shoulders of those strong individuals who came before you with myriad harsh circumstances and know that you are not alone in this fight to manifest your best selves and build a beautiful future worth waiting for. Bravo! You made it!