(When) Did You Graduate?

During my early college years, one of the most common questions asked of me was, “Where did you go to high school?” I would answer, and the next question was usually, “When did you graduate?” That seems like a normal course of conversation to me, though it’s been a while since anyone asked me when I graduated.

However, I heard a variation while I was at work the other day. I was on site at a local restaurant, and two young women were discussing their school years while waiting for customers to come in. The conversation went something like this, though the names of the schools have been changed.

“So, how old are you?” asked the brunette.

“Nineteen,” replied the blonde.

“Hm. I’m twenty. Too old to be working here. Where did you go to school?”

“Harrison,” said the blonde, “though not by choice. I wanted to go to Paulson, but I couldn’t get in before the open enrollment ended.”

“Ah. I went to Northside,” said the brunette, wiping a plastic glass with a towel. “Did you graduate?”

I did a mental double take. What did she say? I thought.

“Yeah,” replied the blonde, as if she expected the question.

“I didn’t,” said the brunette. “That’s why I’m still working here at twenty.”

I was completely floored that asking whether a person graduated is considered to be a normal course of conversation these days. I checked it out with my son, who is a high school senior.

“Oh. Yeah,” he said, monotone. “That’s pretty normal.”

Normal?

Since when did it become normal to ask a person “if” they graduated? I know the high school dropout rates continue to climb, but when did they get to the point where it’s necessary to ask “if” someone graduated, rather than when? Is there anything we can do to reverse this trend?

Somehow, I don’t think the “no child left behind” edict has come to fruition. In fact, it seems that more children are being left behind than a few years ago, and that upsets me.

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