Everyone wants all children to graduate. We know this. Yes, even young people themselves want to graduate. Even though they don’t always show it, deep down they do. This includes kids who have poor attendance and get sent to the principal’s office. In all of my years of teaching I have never met a student who dropped out of school who didn’t regret not graduating from high school.

The recent statistics in the Pioneer about graduation rates should be alarming to everyone. In case you missed them, here is a summary of what was printed. The data was gathered from the State Department of Education.

  1. The graduation rates for all groups of students showed little improvement from 2017 to 2018. The four year graduation rate “reached a record high in 2018 at 83.2 percent, up .05 percent from the year prior.”
  2. Fifty-one percent of American Indian students in Minnesota schools graduated in four years, up .3% from the previous year.
  3. Sixty six percent of Hispanic students graduated within four years.
  4. Sixty seven percent of African American students graduated.
  5. Eighty six percent of Asian students graduated within four years.

The article pointed out the all too well-known facts that students who experience homelessness, students who are from low-income families, students in special education, students who are frequently disciplined in school and students who have English as a second language are more likely not to graduate.

Every time I see those familiar statistics of low graduation rates and the disparity between students of color and white students, I equate them with the mass shootings around the United States. They happen day after day and nobody does anything about them. Now that you can openly wear handguns to church in Texas, I am waiting for the day when a couple of bad hombres packing six guns fight it out during a church service.

People will be ducking behind the pews and altar. Some will take out their own handguns and begin shooting. It will be like Wyatt Earp’s gunfight at the OK Corral. You wait, it will happen. And now parents are buying bulletproof backpacks. I wonder if the parents in Texas will have their kids wear them to church, too. As my mother used to say, “What has this world come to?”

Year after year we read about low graduation rates among Native kids and African American kids and Hispanic kids and in spite of well-meaning educators, we don’t see a whole lot of substantial progress. This, too, is getting old. Why can’t we fix it when so much is at stake?

Would a more educated society mean people making better decisions? Would it mean people with higher levels of self-confidence? Would it mean more people voting, speaking out against any injustice, earning a decent living? Would it mean fewer people dying from guns? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Whenever I go knocking on doors asking for support for the 100 percent movement, people are very receptive. Usually there is no hesitation. Sometimes there is a statement like, “Well, what you are doing is good but I really don’t have any young people coming here.” My response is, “Yes, but you see young people all the time. Engage them in a conversation about education and what they will do after school. Encourage them to graduate.”

If we all did this and did it relentlessly, we could accomplish our goal in a year. Yes, we could. Every student would develop a mindset to graduate.

Sometimes people bring up the fact that “Shouldn’t schools be doing this?” My response is that they are doing lots of things to encourage all youth to graduate. But it’s not enough and the statistics that I cited earlier aren’t going to change a great deal in the immediate future. We just can’t sit around and see kids leaving school early like we seem to be waiting endlessly for tougher gun laws in spite of the fact that kids are dying everyday. What do we do? We say things like, “Isn’t that a shame.”

Let’s imagine that Kathy and I had enough money to give every senior in Beltrami County a million dollars if they graduated. The same amount would be given to their parents and their teachers with one caveat. One hundred percent would have to graduate. Do you think we could do it? I would bet a million dollars that we could. Who couldn’t use a million dollars?

Let’s say that in April I make the announcement that we had a poor year investing money and we no longer could do what we promised we would do. Would there be lots of angry and disappointed folks? You bet. Kathy and I would probably have to get out of Dodge.

However, after facing an angry mob, I would say, “I know you are disappointed and I don’t blame you but aren’t our kids worth more than a million dollars? We don’t need a million dollars to give to every student who graduates. Our kids are worth 10 times, a hundred times more than that. Since they are worth that much, let’s help them get that million dollar diploma. Let’s make it our mission.

Riddle: What occurs once in a minute, twice in a moment and never in one thousand years? (The letter M.) “M” begins in “mission” and in “million.” Let’s make it our mission to ensure that 100 percent of our students has a million dollar diploma.

100 percent graduation

Thanks to Slumberland Furniture and Fade Master for being the most recent businesses to support a 100 percent graduation rate. You can help kids graduate when you:

  1. Talk about the opportunities that are available when a young person graduates from high school.
  2. Let them know that with just a high school diploma the chances of earning a million dollars are much, much better than someone who does not have a diploma.
  3. Remind them that a high school diploma isn’t about money; it’s about opportunity and pride.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.