When my daughter, Sam, brought home the lone copy of the invitation for her high school graduation program, I immediately noticed the theme, “Become Men of VALUE” but decided not to make any comments. Everyone in the family was stressed out as it was and making an issue over an invitation seemed trivial. I was only too happy that the preparations and rehearsals would be over, I wanted Sam to enjoy her day, and I wanted the entire family to enjoy the occasion as well. I was so happy that I even posted a snapshot of the invitation cover on my Web log.
We attended the graduation as a family and it wasn’t until we were there and I was experiencing the graduation in the context of all the events that preceded it when the little things about the invitation started to nag at me in a big, big way. See, I am one of those people who believe that slips of the tongue are not unintentional mistakes but, rather, honest expressions of deep-rooted thoughts, beliefs, biases and feelings because they are uttered without self-censorship and without applying the filters of political and social correctness. And right there at the graduation ceremony, I started wondering if “Become Men of VALUE” is in the nature of a slip of the tongue.
And I wasn’t the only one who wondered. When I checked the comments on my Web log the following day, there was a comment from Kristine, a mother like myself, and a second-generation Filipina raising a daughter in America, that there was something about the quote that bothered her. I told her I knew. The choice of words was riddled with issues—“Men” is sexist and “VALUE” is not the same as values. “Become” is actually even more bothersome.
It’s just an invitation, you may say. But it’s a bundle of paper that will be treasured and kept for a long time because it is part of my daughter’s high school memories. It is also a symbol of the culmination of four years of hard work. And beyond the cardboard covers and sheets of paper between them are layers of meaning that may signify a lot of things to some and nothing for others.
It is sexist to use “men” when referring to a specific group of persons that include both males and females, as it undermines the inclusion and significance of the females in the group. The word man is not even acceptable to describe a position. There is a reason why the words chairwoman and chairperson are in use today when there was only chairman a generation ago.
The dictionary meaning of “become” is “grow to be” or “turn into.” Hence, the graduates are being exhorted to grow to be and/or turn into persons of value (or values, but I’ll get to that later). And right there is the obvious implication that it is a status that they have yet to achieve and they are, therefore, not yet persons of value (or values) at this point. What an insult to the graduates. And what an insult to us parents.
Value or values? Value is the preciousness of something while values refer to a person’s principles or standards of behavior or his judgment of what is important in life. While there might not seem anything wrong with seeking to mold persons of value, in the context of a graduation ceremony, there is that inevitable association with market value or the targeted profitability of these young people.
The amusing thing is that when the representative of the senior class stepped up to the podium to deliver a message on behalf of his co-graduates, he actually made the distinction and delivered his speech talking about values rather than value. It was one of the very few parts of the program that I applauded. And I applauded that young man’s speech very, very resoundingly while wondering how his words struck the people in charge of the program and, in particular, whoever coined the term “Become Men of VALUE.”
Within the pages of the invitation was the program itself and one of the items on the list was an invocation. The meaning and use of the word invocation today is the result of an awareness that in non-sectarian institutions and gatherings, the religious belief of some—even if they constitute the majority—should never be imposed on the rest because to do so is a sign of disrespect for other beliefs and faiths. In fact, the word invocation is substituted for “Opening Prayer” to denote that it does not pander to any particular religion or religious belief.
When the so-called invocation began with a sign of the cross to say that I was shocked would be an understatement. It is a non-sectarian school, after all, that assured me when I first brought my daughters there four years ago that it was more concerned with spirituality rather than religious faith. After the word “Christ” was mentioned twice in the invocation, I sat down and quietly waited for the obviously very Catholic prayer to be over. It was the least disruptive thing I could do without allowing myself to be dictated upon.
I’m glad it’s finally over. To Sam and her classmates, remember that no matter what anyone says, you are all persons of value and values. Dare to be different, celebrate your uniqueness, revel in your dreams and know that there are many paths that lead to the stars. No matter what anyone says.