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With thanks to Wendell Berry

What if diplomas were earned for the second
definition of the verb“graduate”: “to change gradually
by degrees”? What if teachers graded using,
say, a Samaritan scale of sensitivity? “Student
can’t define ‘egalitarianism’ but has made
steady progress from egregiously entitled
to humbly awed by all the overlooked others—
crossing guards, T-ball coaches, custodians,
fourth-grade teachers—who got him here.”
Imagine. “Can’t differentiate velocity, but this kid?
Accelerated in neighbor knowing. She shepherds
campus margins and lonely lunch tables.” What if
parents cared less about CRT, liberal grooming,
and the unMAGA agenda of American literature,
and rallied, instead, to make education great again,
demanding tests that measured kindness
on a scale from Darth Vader to Mr. Rogers? Might
such graduates bridge our culture wars? Cure
acute racism and curb moral climate change?
Beat that ever-more-unbearable right to bear arms
into a neighborhood goal to share garden tools?
Imagine if Jesus gave the commencement address:
“A homeless man robbed and beaten lay outside
a corner liquor store. One by one three young men
walked past. Two, clutching framed diplomas, hurried
across the tracks to cuff-linked careers. The third,
a migrant worker, hands empty but heart full, knelt
beside the man, asked his name, then led him to safety,
rest, and every grace. Which do you think was truly
a neighbor to the man? Go, graduates. Do likewise.
Practice graduation.”

Photo by RUT MIIT on Unsplash

Mark Hiskes

Mark Hiskes is a retired high school English teacher from Holland, Michigan, who devotes his time to a number of things: two delightful grandchildren, Sylvie and Paige; his wonderful wife, Cindy, with whom he rebuilds and refurbishes old furniture for sale in her antique booth; reading ever more great books, ancient, old, and new; and doing his best to write poetry, stories, and essays that might, God willing, tell some manner of truth.


  • Jo Taylor says:

    What a beautiful interpretation of scripture! Such an impactful poem!

  • Ruth Evenhouse says:

    Wow, Mark! I hope to continue “graduating”
    in such a way that you so eloquently describe.

  • Elly says:


  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    Your old colleague stands humbly in awe of this poem; I hope you have occasion to deliver this at a graduation.

  • Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer says:

    oh, gorgeous–to bring us into the living verb of graduation–beautiful

  • Mark Hiskes says:

    Thanks, friends, for these kind words. I’m so grateful for folks who read and write with such care not only their own poems but also such words of careful appreciation.

  • Sheryl Beerens says:

    Love this, Mark!
    What a world it would be if “steady progress from egregiously entitled
    to humbly awed by all the overlooked others” was the norm.