05/22/2012 05:58 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2012

Pompus and Circumstance

The morning was awash in a sea of purple and gold. "Pomp & Circumstance" played while the fresh-faced flock processed in to take their places in their seats and the world, my eldest son among them. The speeches commenced, led by the witty and eloquent student body president, a Boettcher Scholar, great communicator and bound for the White House if he so chooses. Others followed: valedictorian, senior speaker, salutatorian, principal, and superintendent. Impressively, the student's speeches managed to steer clear of cliché, while the adults rushed right into them the way a teenage driver rushes a red light.

I loved how these young writers expressed themselves: insightful and filled with generational references, they spoke to their peers and knew and how to reach them. Each was pitch perfect, extolling the virtues of their soon-to-be alma mater, lauding fellow classmate's accomplishments and inspiring them with self-effacing words of wisdom about the road ahead... all except for the valedictorian.

There seems to be a certain pomposity that seems to go with this title, earned perhaps, by hours of extra-curricular activities and an admirably rigorous study schedule. This was not the adjective I'd dub the gawky young man standing before his class; I would lean toward rude. There was an air of cockiness as he launched one particularly well-crafted line in his speech. Delivered with aplomb, he took an adeptly right-handed swipe at President Obama. The response from the crowd was a predictable smattering of applause and boos, and while most sat in stunned silence, I was flabbergasted.

I could not imagine this happening at my graduation. Back in the the late '70s there was still a layer of civility over the American landscape. Growing up as a child of Yellow Dog Democrats, I grew into political awareness under the influence of "Tricky Dick," a moniker forbidden in our household. I was taught respect for the office regardless of your belief about its occupant.
While I have no objection to the valedictorian's point of view -- in fact I'm glad he cares and I'm hopeful he'll register to vote -- I am saddened that this what we've taught our children, that public snark and the culture of hatred should be acceptable in such a solemn setting. I know the world has changed, that the "don't discuss religion or politics" rule is as fashionable as a pair of white cotton gloves. It is not only allowed, it is done 24/7 on our televisions, social media and various other public forums and at full voice, but that is no excuse for forgetting to teach them manners. I know civility is not a part of the Civics curriculum, but perhaps it should be.