Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was disturbed that an issue as important as our environment was not addressed in politics, so he created the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970. An estimated 20 million people nationwide attended festivities that day. I was a student at Temple University at the time and I can recall the excitement it created on campus.

Earth Day celebrations have spread nationwide to the extent that nearly every school and college and community have Earth Day events. Voyageurs Expeditionary School celebrated Earth Day by providing students with a variety of fun hands-on activities.

Whenever we want kids to focus on something very important we have to create some corresponding activities that make them think about it similar to what Voyageurs did on April 22. If we don’t focus on it, kids don’t think about it. It’s kind of like teaching kids to brush their teeth. You not only have to continually remind them, you have to make them think about what would happen if they didn’t brush their teeth. This is certainly true about Earth Day.

“Protecting the environment” was not part of the teaching vocabulary when I was in high school. Minnesota published a magazine, “Conservation Volunteer,” which I would read on occasion but there was not a whole lot about “climate change” and “recycling” and “water quality.” Climate change had to do with the next blizzard or tornado and not much else.

If we had a teacher who taught us about water pollution, we would have listened because we had two plants that dumped horse and chicken remains into the Cannon River, which flowed through my hometown and eventually into the Mississippi. Citizens joked about how good the bullheads tasted because of this refuse. You can imagine how the water looked at the spot where all of the horse and chicken guts flowed into the river and lakes.

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Prior to the first Earth Day celebration in 1968, Stewart Brand founded a book called the "Whole Earth Catalog." No doubt, some of my readers remember that book. Kathy and I had a copy or two at one time. The last issue was published in 1998. It provided readers with countless resources all dedicated to protecting our planet. It was a big hit among the '60s crowd, which included “hippies.” It did provide a valuable resource for anyone interested in protecting planet Earth.

If it were not for our annual Earth Day focus, we would not be as earth-friendly as we are today. Everything we do that causes us to think about our fragile planet is worth doing. What if we did the same kind of thing with graduation? What if we made a special effort to focus on the need to graduate once a year like we do with Earth Day? What might this day look like?

I always like to begin with the question, “Why?” We have a graduation rate in Minnesota in the 80% range. That’s not too bad. Can schools really do any better? Why get everyone working on graduation when we have fine schools doing the best they can? Maybe all kids don’t deserve to graduate. Someone has to do all the work that high school and college graduates don’t want to do. Why not leave well enough alone?

This is what would happen if everyone graduated from high school—100%. More people would feel better about themselves. One of the biggest factors mentioned after we have a mass shooting is, “We need better mental health.” The No. 1 reason why kids drop out of school is lack of confidence. People need a purpose in life and this is what a high school diploma helps them accomplish. It gets students thinking about their future.

Every child deserves to graduate because every young person is capable of graduating. What a tragedy it is when a student does not graduate. It’s almost an injustice. When will the day come when there is a class action lawsuit brought about by parents of students who do not graduate?

It is possible to graduate 100% of our young people. If we can all have a mindset to wear face masks and learn to do it within a matter of weeks, why can’t we instill a mindset to graduate in our youth? It’s equally as important.

Those are just a few reasons, I could give you a 100 more. What would a graduation day celebration look like?

Using the same model as Voyageurs School, you would have each teacher/citizen doing a different activity related to graduation. Here are some examples:

  • Get a panel of recent high school graduates to talk to kids about the need to graduate.
  • Perform a play where a student is debating to drop out of school and a friend or teacher talks him or her out of it.
  • Take kids who may not graduate on a tour of a business to hear the need for a diploma expressed by the owner.
  • Listen to a panel of people who dropped out of school but later returned to get their GED.
  • Have a grandparent come and talk to kids about the value of education.
  • Have a poster contest having to do with getting a high school diploma.
  • Show the movie "Stand and Deliver."
  • Have a debate among students who believe a diploma is important and those who do not.
  • Have children design their own high school diploma putting the correct names on it and dates.
  • Play "red light, green light" with young children having the end line representing a graduation line or high school diploma.
  • Have the mayor sign a proclamation designating a certain day of the year as “Celebrate Graduation Day.”

When we focus on something, we get things done. We aren’t focusing on graduation as much as we need to. If we can get excited about Earth Day, we certainly should get excited about having a graduation day celebration for everyone.

Riddle: What is the center of gravity? (Answer: The letter “V.”) “V” is for victory and that’s what we can have when 100% of our students have a high school diploma.

100%

Thanks to Tara Bemidji for being the latest to support the 100% graduation rate initiative. Our numbers continue to grow. Join us.

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