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But We’ve Always Done it That Way!
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 • Posted August 23, 2013 2:15 PM

Van Horn, Texas, 1982. I had made it through my first year as a high school principal—almost. Now I had to get through graduation. As the end of the year approached, the senior class sponsor handed me a paper and said, “This is the program for this year’s commencement exercises.” I thanked her and told her I would look it over. When I did, I told myself, “No way!”

One of the first things on the program was the handing out of diplomas followed by the salutatorian and valedictory addresses, the awarding of scholarships and etc. Even as a greenhorn principal I knew that as soon as the diplomas were in the hands of those rambunctious seniors, all control over them was gone. I decided that the order of the program would have to change.

Over the years I had seen beach balls miraculously appear out of nowhere and get bounced all over the place in the middle of the program. I had seen girls scream as mice ran around under foot. I had even seen a graduating senior throw off his robe and streak across the stage in the raw. Nope. The order of the program would have to change so that the awarding of the diplomas came at the end instead of at the beginning.

Another thing that needed changing, in my humble opinion, was the seating arrangement. The graduating seniors were to be seated in the audience facing the stage with their parents behind them looking at the back of their heads. The band was to be seated in what was to me the place of honor on the stage where they could be seen clearly by everyone. That just didn’t seem right. I thought the seniors should be on the stage where they could be admired by all their moms, dads, aunts, uncles, siblings and etc. Besides, there was less chance of misbehavior with mom and dad looking directly at their beaming young faces. I thought the band should be seated off to one side in the audience. When the band wasn’t playing the processional and recessional music at the beginning and end of the program, I knew those kids would be squirming all over the place rattling their instruments and music stands. I made the changes on paper and handed it back to the senior class sponsor.

“You can’t do that!” she insisted. “We’ve always done it that way!” “Well,” said I, pulling rank, “perhaps that worked in the past but this is the way it is going to be this year,” and I tried to explain my reasons. “The school board isn’t going to like this,” she insisted. Her veiled threat didn’t faze me because I knew in my little black heart that I was right.

Under the “new system,” commencement went off without any major glitches for the four years I was there. I moved on to another school district and eventually the senior class sponsor also did. Time went on. After several more years I happened to meet the school counselor that had worked with me in Van Horn. “Funny thing,” he said. “We recently got a new principal at the high school. He wanted to change the order of the commencement program. ‘You can’t do that!’ insisted the senior class sponsor. ‘Because we’ve always done it this way!’”

This old world in which we live is constantly in a state of change. Some would say it is for the better, others would say it is falling apart. Whatever the case, change is inevitable and in most cases necessary. We have to live with the fact that things won’t always be the way we think they ought to be. Neither can we always pull rank in order to maintain the status quo or to cause change in the direction we would like.

What this world needs right now is someone who can foretell the future and then change it before it happens. George Bernard Shaw said, “Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”

“Decide what you want to be,” said John A. Widtsoe, “Pay the price and be what you want to be.” Whatever the direction the world takes, if we maintain our moral compass, we will be alright. That’s the way it has always been…


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