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Truth or Consequences: Graduation or Not

Invitations to graduations and accompanying photographs have begun arriving in my mailboxes, postal and electronic. Notices of college acceptance letters, recognition ceremonies, and notification by graduates of career plans, makes me think about the future while feeling nostalgic.

I think back to May 1974 when I, along with more than 200 classmates graduated from McDonogh 35 High School, and hundreds of other peers graduated from one of 20 public high schools in New Orleans. Those memories conflict with current narratives about pre-Katrina schools. Success is often missing from conversations about those educated in schools prior to the hurricane.

Although time and the process of aging sometimes affect memory, people are usually able to recall the name of their high school along with the year of graduation. I invited Facebook friends to participate in a survey that would take some of them back 40 years and others less than five. They were asked to answer three questions.

  1. What is the highest level of school you have completed or highest degree you achieved?
  2. Which year did you graduate from school?
  3. Which high school did you attend?

Of more than 140 people who responded, 99% completed high school or attained a GED. More than 75% indicated some type of degree – associate through graduate. Approximately 18% attended college but did not receive a degree.

Twenty-five percent responded to “other” indicating that they did not attend any of the schools listed. This was not surprising; the quality of public education in New Orleans has been a point of concern for decades resulting in some families choosing to enroll their children in non-public schools. Another factor related to non-enrollment in public schools was the influence of Catholicism in New Orleans. Religious beliefs have influenced educational choice for many years and more often than not, Catholic schools were the choice for many families. Finally, a factor that I did not immediately consider is that some of the respondents may have graduated after Katrina from schools that are not listed because they are “new schools, [to] New Orleans.”

This survey, though brief, was designed to draw attention to data missing from conversations about educational quality prior to Katrina. If the narrative that educational entrepreneurs continue to present to the world is completely true, then the survey results might be questionable. It could mean any of the following situations:

  • Graduates between 1975 and 2015 who did not pursue and/or complete post-secondary education but are business owners and entrepreneurs did not learn in high school any skills applicable to their professions;
  • Respondents did not successfully matriculate through undergraduate and graduate institutions;
  • Data were manipulated to misrepresent educational status attained beyond high school;
  • Rates of graduation in New Orleans between 1975 and 2015 were not part of a national trend during that time span; or
  • 100% of respondents provided information that is untrue.

A young boy in the movie Australia spoke words that support the importance of telling our own truth. This young boy stated, “That’s how you keep them people belong you always, you tell [the] stories.” Luhrmann, B. (Director, 2008). How does your story compare to those who have dismissed facts, negated life stories and continue rewriting history? Let’s write and tell our own stories.

See you next month baby!

Dr. Lisa – New Orleans Born, Raised, and Returned©