A glimpse into Oakland’s graduation season

Our staff photographers have been especially busy this week as they run from one commencement ceremony to the next. Here are some of the pictures they took yesterday, and one from the day before:

BEST High School senior Ashley Addison (below left), at the BEST and EXCEL graduation at McClymonds
photo by Alison Yin

Paul Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts grads James Albright (below, left) and Denean Brown, practicing before the big moment
photo by Alex Molloy

Skyline High School’s Class of 2008, at the Paramount Theater
photo by Alison Yin

Jamari Caldwell (below), rocking a white, three-piece suit at his graduation from Media Academy (Fremont) at Holy Names University
photo by Laura A. Oda

De’Juana Oliver, as she speaks Thursday about her experience at Youth Empowerment School
photo by D. Ross Cameron

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • John

    Great pictures!!! Were there any non-Afro American graduates?

  • OUSD employee

    John: Why would you ask that inane question? You should have just left race out of it and congratulated these students on accomplishing a great milestone. It’s questions like these that show how ignorant some people are.

  • Sharon

    District demographics from DataQuest @ the California Department of Education show that the breakdown for OUSD in 2007-2008 is as follows:

    American Indian or Alaska Native 0.4%
    Asian 13.7%
    Pacific Islander 1.1%
    Filipino 0.8%
    Hispanic or Latino 36.5%
    African American 36.3%
    White 6.2%

    To me John’s question is provocative but what is behind it is not really out of line.

  • John

    Thanks Sharon for seeing the bigger picture.

    Thanks Sesame Street for making sure all ethnicities is represented. It’s the American way!

  • Sue

    I hadn’t paid attention to the ethnicities of the students in the pictures, until it was commented on. Going back and looking again, I see students of varied ancestry in the backgrounds.

    Perhaps this is an example of seeing what we’re looking for, and not seeing what we aren’t looking for?

  • Nextset

    Looks like a non-white graduation to me. Gee, I wonder why??

  • Katy Murphy

    In 2007, the most recent California Department of Education stats available, just 3.8 percent of OUSD’s high school graduates were white — 83 graduates out of 2,184. About 46 percent were black, 23 percent were Asian and 21 percent were Latino.


  • John

    It’s great to know I’m a catalyst for getting someone to pay attention! Once a special education teacher always a special education teacher.

  • Arwa

    Great pictures! Its always an inspiration to see students closer to their dreams.

  • Nextset

    Arwa: What is it with the “Dreams” commentary being used to describe ambition? I dream of winning the lottery – actually I really don’t, I know the odds. But sometime I can force myself to daydream disposing of millions in lottery winnings… That’s a dream.

    Graduating from high school and going on is no dream, it never was. It’s work. It’s giving up other things and doing the classwork. Nobody I ever went to school with spoke of education as “dreaming”. You either do the work and finish the program and graduate or you don’t. And if you commit to school you give up anything that gets in the way. I think that’s called either sacrifice or “choice”.

    Talking to students about “dreams” like this minimizes the process of deciding on school and living up to your commitment. It is one more thing in a long list of things where certain children are taught that they are not responsible for their life, that life just happens.

    We don’t want kids thinking that some people are just lucky, that they were given things – like an education – and that life is a matter of fate. Life is what you make of it. And they need to get that straight now.

    I see people who think like that (life just happens) in court all the time. They do armed robberies at 19 and can’t understand why they had better plea bargain quick for several years of prison time before they get the 20 years they have coming after a trial. They have never been raised to see that their life is what they make, not some toss of the dice (or somebody not liking them).

    Dream my a**. If you go to High School and do the work and pass the state test (which is so easy a high functioning 14 year old would pass) you will get a diploma which means not so much in this economy. No big deal. Now getting through a four year college nowadays is a testament to financial support and planning as well as ability to control your life. Still not a dream, but a reflection of work accomplished.

    A may agree that passing the state bar exam is a “dream” but actually, if you have done the work and spent the time in a good review program you should at least have a very good idea of where you stand – they are called practice tests. The old exam questions and their answers are published going back decades also. So the dream thing really doesn’t fit unless you are not really with it.

    I think it’s a mistake to say to children that “dreaming” has anything to do with completing a program and picking up the certificates. Saying that denigrates the work that is done for these things. It wasn’t a dream, it was a job. And now the job is done. Next job…

  • Nextset


    Here’s a chart of educational attainment in the USA from wikipedia. It claims that 84% of the adult population has the high school diploma.

    High School graduation is a cause for a rite of passage celebration (a good party!!) – it’s doesn’t represent any special achivement in life. And it’s no dream either – they should be dreaming something far more.

  • Teniesha Campbell


  • cranky teacher

    Nextset, you build your arguments like lawyer, no doubt: Excluding any line of thinking or evidence that runs counter to your argument. Here’s some cross-exam:

    — Isn’t it true that for many kids they have to be able to dream before they can care? That they have to believe there is something good in their future, some hope, otherwise they’ll give up and fall into the pit of negative influences that surround them?

    — Isn’t it true that 84% of Americans EVENTUALLY geting a high school degree is not a valid argument against special appreciation for those students who have much higher odds against them for a variety of very real reasons and still graduate ON TIME.

    It IS a special achievement for some, while, to be sure, for others it was a forgone conclusion that should not be overly praised.

    For myself, I would have had to become a full-blown teen drug addict not to muddle my way through high school — I could always cram for tests and pass them. For my brother with severe learning difficulties, but plenty of material and family resources, it was no such thing — in fact, it required a special school, a psychological turnaroud and curricular intervention to get him through. He later graduated from a top university — and found it much easier than getting out of high school!

    As usual, you present yourself as the model of “against all odds” success, when in fact you are an intelligent man who came from a family that put a premium on education, hard work and success, and provided positive role models.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: I am a lawyer all right… So you got that right.

    I don’t reward low expectations with a pat on the head. I don’t think I have to. You see, by the early/middle part of the 20th Century during the black migration to CA the Roman Catholic Church set up primary and secondary schools in the East Bay that took all comers. My older relatives went to them – back in the 1950s. They were integrated before other schools got there. They had children of butchers, bakers, doctors, lawyers, tradesman… Everybody in uniform so you couldn’t wear your class on your sleeves. There was no congratulations because you got out of bed and showed up and behaved. It was expected. Poor kids weren’t “special” and weren’t patted on the head when they didn’t burn down the place.

    Everybody learned to read and write (penmanship was taught) the same way and everybody got knocked around when the situation called for it. And when I went, I seem to remember everybody graduating, even the dummies. The dummies are senior civil servants now – rather well off actually. These schools and the public schools with similar tactics were real schools, not what we send these kids to hang out in now. I consider this environment to be normal for any school.

    So don’t look to me for head pats because some kids learned to read and graduated from high school. I expect that. I expect nothing less. I don’t care whose parent was on crack or missing, they’re not the first people in the last 100 years around Oakland to have that. I expect everybody to do as they are told in secondary school and turn the work in. If they need help I expect them to speak up, not throw temper tantrums, curse the staff and refuse to perform.

    And I’m just me. The reason I write this is to remind readers that this pity party for “the poor” is purely in the minds of liberal & enabling socialist types who have evidently forgotten the poor people who came before them – some of which are now professionals around town. I have seen people trying to explain their problems (which really was their not taking care of anything they were supposed to) to one Alameda Co Superior Court Judge who grew up as a Cannery Worker with no father. They just don’t even seem to think of the possibility that some of the establishment figures around town can out “story” them on hard times. We learned in school what poor people can do (biographies were required reading), we never did try to have lower expectations because anybody wasn’t rich.

    I’ve known poor, broken-home kids who went into the professions, some were my classmates in law school. My friends have other real interesting stories. Don’t think your students invented poverty. We do no service to them to say to them they are a “credit to their” whatever, like they have invented the light bulb.

    So they finished High School – Great! Go Party – it’s a major rite of passage, but on Monday they have to go one to their next plan in life. To work, To School, To the military – everybody has to work on something.. They should go as far as they can in education and training and have a good life. But it is their choice how they live live, it’s not a damn dream. If someone wants something they pay for it (in sweat and time), they don’t “dream” it and it falls from the sky or is given to them.

    You work with the kids and you seem to feel differently. Great. We’re all different. My beef is that a culture of low expectations is responsible for low morals and behavior – such as the loud radio thing, the thug clothing & accessories, irresponsibility, and the air of entitlement that leads to crash landings when they run into people like me (including as peers) in higher ed classes, on the job, and in customer service.

    I am no model of “against all odds success” where did you get that idea? My generation are Drs and Lawyers. It’s one set of grandparents who were Janitor and Laundress. And let me tell you, they were a ham fisted janitor and laundress who made all of their children work, go to school and obey authority at the point of a belt. I went to school and work because the alternatives were too dire to contemplate. They (the parents) made us pull weeds in the backyard if they saw us sitting around, we couldn’t even sleep in on Saturday. My cousins were the same. School and work was easier than trying to sit for 10 minutes at the house. I’m not a role model, I chose the path of least resistance. We all did. UC Berkeley was $600 a year and it was more pleasant there than in the house…

  • Sue

    I’m really glad that someone stepped forward to defend the word “dream”. A high school graduation is a step, a big one, towards achieving one’s dreams.

    Yesterday I attended my younger son’s 5th grade promotion ceremony. Five of the kids spoke. One girl described her dream of going to medical school and becoming a surgeon. The principal spoke to the families (DH and I as still-married parents were the exception – many of these kids are being raised in single-parent homes or by relatives other than a parent) about how much she appreciated our kids, calling them “sweet” and “real kids”. It was an indirect contrast to the stereotype of OUSD students who are gang-bangers, have seen their friends killed on our streets, and have no hope or dreams of anything better than pimping and drug-dealing, and jail and/or early deaths. The principal was recognizing and acknowledging the hard work of families who’ve helped these kids avoid that stereotype in spite of having the deck stacked against them.

    Dreaming isn’t a dirty word. It isn’t a stand-alone accomplishement either. The dream at its best is the motivator to do the work. The families dreamed of something better for their kids, and then they worked for it, got the kids out of their poor-performing (and sometimes scary and dangerous) neighborhood school and into a better one, and stayed involved with the school and their child’s education, coming to parent nights, teacher meetings, volunteering, and taking their responsibilities seriously.

    I haven’t seen anyone here suggest that dreaming is the only thing students have to do to achieve something, either. “All you have to do is dream” is a nice song lyric, but that’s all it is. A dream is, or should be, a goal. Our kids (Carl B Munck Elementary) are encouraged to have big dreams, as a first step. Not as a fantasy, which seems to be the meaning of “dream” that’s been condemned.

    Once the dream, the long-term goal, has been identified, then a kid can be guided to setting short-term goals and working towards them. That 11-y-o girl who wants to be a surgeon knows that she has to keep working next fall when she gets to middle school, and knowing her and her parents since kindergarten, she’s going to take every science class offered, study hard, and be at the top of every one of them. She’ll be taking AP classes when she gets to high school, and she’ll be working, working, working to maintain a 4.0 GPA so she can get into the best college.

    Her dream is her motivation. If we deny kids’ dreams, what’s going to make them want to work for anything?

  • cranky teacher

    We all know you are lawyer, Nextset — you mention it a lot.

    Your generalizations are weak. You pretend liberals have low standards for performance and behavior because it is convenient to your argument. The reality is many liberal teachers are very strict, while many teachers of all political stripes have given up on holding kids accountable.

    You also posit the district as a “liberal” institution, when in fact it is a representative of a state education system which has had nothing but Republican governors in my lifetime and has been defunded by conservative voters. Sure, many liberals work there, but plenty of other factors come in: Federal policies, bean-counting, corruption, incompetence…

    Personally, I am failing roughly from 20-60% of my students, depending on the class, because they are not meeting basic expectations. Many don’t come to class, some come but can’t behave … but a great many others do come regular, do behave … but don’t learn, so they fail.

    These kids don’t need phony awards or grade inflation, I don’t know anybody who is saying that. But they do need dreams. And hope. And intervention. And better-trained teachers. And adults who care about them. And extra resources, smaller classes and so on.

    My point about your personal background was that you often have implied that because you and those in your family succeeded that your experience pertains as a direct model for other kids, such as those in foster care with no positive role models, etc. All “stories” are not equal, nor is the story the key — it is the damage done which holds kids back.

  • Nextset

    Sue: I’m only preaching because I’ve had my taste.

    I’ve worked with students for nearly 30 years getting them through college, grad school, and into state licensing. I realize now that for at least 4 generations my family (directly and across lines) have worked in secondary, college and grad school education as well as licensed professions. So maybe this is innate to me.

    There is a difference between the minority students who make it through the hoops to advanced degrees and careers and those who don’t. One of the things in my lifetime that I see deselecting students very quickly is lack of pragmatism. That’s practical as opposed to idealism. That and taking unreasonable chances in their behavior.

    Teaching a student, especially grade school through high school students – that accomplishments are a matter of wishing and fantasizing – sets that student up for trouble. It’s a subtle process but it’s deadly, especially in minority youth & women who have problems that other kids don’t have.

    And I’m noticing that the other side of the argument are women. There is a male/female approach to this question that difffers. Women don’t do combat.

    The essential problem is that getting anything worthwhile usually involves sacrifice and delayed gratification. It also will involve getting rid of anything and anyone that gets in the way of the goal.

    In my experience students who have been steeped in mysticism, or a notion that good things will come because they should have it, etc.. will bomb completely when they compete for scarce slots in the professions. The coming economic crash in this country is going to make the competition even more acute. Even worse, these students (OUSD) are attending segregated schools. So they don’t know what real competition is. They are not in a trade school, a college or a professional school where everybody around them is the survivor of a competitive selection process (which also included paying for school) that ensures that competitors are pragmatic. Even worse, these OUSD students will soon face a grading curve – with no social promotions at all. This is true if they are just trying to make it through a Union Apprenticeship. You cannot raise students to do well in the environment we have in this Brave New World by teaching them to dream, achieve their dreams, live their dreams, etc. etc.

    You teach them to look around and decide what they would want in life, how much it costs, and how they are going to raise the ante to pay for it (meaning years of school and forgone pleasures to get there).

    I believe the schools should be telling the students to make their minds up (quick) about how they want to live and what they want to do to support themselves – or at least start deciding what the don’t want in life – do the charts about the occupations and educations that support these decisions, find out what the prerequisites are and get to work. Periodically they should take stock of how things are going with them and their world and adjust their plans as required.

    And they don’t need dreams as motivation. They need to want something. Want and hunger are motivation. Some want power, some want comfort, some want revenge. Some want to be loved. Do they want to be unskilled labor? Do they want to work with autonomy and no close supervision? I’ve dealt with people in my work since high school. I saw no one accomplishing much on “dream satisfaction”. I saw many people knocked out of the running for things they should have been able to obtain because of a lack of dedication, lack of research, and lack of willingness to sacrifice convenience for later gain.

    There is a lot of pain involved – in my law school class there were 25 blacks starting, I believe 5 eventually passed the bar. I’ve known a lot of minority students who’ve dropped away in their “dream” of medicine and law and my observation of what happened is that there was too much dreaming and not enough practicality in their behavior. They were warned, but just dreamed harder. As I’ve indicated I’m interested in minority students making it. I’ve seen many of these who don’t – despite help. I don’t like the propagation of counter-productive teaching for those kids. They are vulnerable and don’t need the albatross around their necks.

    And one more thing, students frequently can “get into the best college” and get bounced out onto the concrete steps if they are mismatched – 4.0 and all. They’d better be taught that there is much more to suitability that GPA. And some GPAs are more equal than others.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: If you are failing as many as 60% of your students, why are you even staying in that “school”?

    Exactly what does your work accomplish? What do you teach, anyway? What level?

    We don’t agree on much and I have no problem with that. We have different worlds. I just don’t understand yours. Is this what you though would happen when you began teaching at OUSD? Or have things changed?

  • Sue

    I don’t want to put words into anyone else’s mouth, so please correct me if I’m wrong.

    From reading Cranky Teacher’s posts, I bet s/he is still in the classroom not for the 20-60% who fail, but for the 80-40% who are learning.

    And thank you, from a parent of two learners. You seem to have a lot in common with the 25 and 14 year veteran teachers who were recognized yesterday at younger son’s promotion ceremony.

  • Sue


    Your post says the same things mine does – except that you don’t like that word “dream”. You’re still stuck on your “fantasy” definition, and ignoring the alternative I offered, which was “goal (long-term)”. No one else here seems to be using your definition. As I read it, they all seem to be using mine.

    You’re preaching to the choir. And choir members tend to react negatively to those who are tone-deaf.

  • Nextset

    Good point, Sue. You keep on teaching the dream. Time will tell the results.

    My feelings are clouded by my experiences with students at my level. I see plenty of failures, they are predictable failures, and I think things could have been different for them had they been trained my way.

    I don’t believe we are talking about semantics. My take on this is that we are really are talking about different ways of thinking and viewing the world.

    Anyway, I hear that language a lot (my “dreams”, etc) from people who are in or heading for trouble. It jars me.

    My experiences with people are different from yours. Good luck with yours.

  • Sue

    “My feelings are clouded by my experiences …”

    I got that. The word “dream” triggers all kinds of negative feeling in you – and boy have you let everyone know!

    A dear friend has a similar reaction to the word “family”. I won’t discuss my friend’s history, but the reaction makes perfect sense knowing that history.

    Doesn’t mean either word is bad. Just that some people have bad feelings around prefectly good words.

  • cranky teacher

    I teach a core subject to underclassmen. Many of these kids have passed along without having to do much and suddenly we ask them to actually accomplish things and show us what they’ve learned. These are the years when kids begin drifting away from school — up to 50 percent of them. It is not always possible to predict who will make it (or when), so we try to be equitable.

    I just don’t see the dichotomy your positing between dreams and pragmatism. Sure, sometimes you meet a clueless kid who talks about being a doctor when they can’t even come to class regularly, or think clearly. For the most part, though, most of these struggling kids have neither medium- or long-range goals OR dreams. They are in the hear-and-now of the next two hours: Transport, safety, comfort, food, comaraderie.

    In this sense, they are often quite pragmatic: They have learned how to get through the day. Their dream is to not get hassled, beat or killed, and to cop a few laughs here and there. They walk miles to avoid bullies, work for teachers to get money for lunch, beg all day to get change for the bus, navigate the daily minefields of addiction-plagued families, pick fights on campus rather than face a more dangerous engagement in the hood…

  • Nextset

    Sue: I think my real problem is that as I mentioned, whenever I hear that word being used this way the speaker (usually black) is in trouble or headed for trouble, or is unrealistic.

    I probably get on others nerves but when you work in criminal law in California for nearly 30 years you get tired of all the casualties who weren’t trained well at all. And then here comes another generation with even bigger problems… So I fret about education policy. I’m convinced that these kids are being cheated out of the training they need to stay above water in this society – training that others get as a matter of course.

    Today I just signed off on a background form as a reference for a new college graduate (social sciences) about to start an entry-level $62,400 civil service job he’ll probably leave in a year to go to grad school. There are jobs out there for people, I see people moving through them. He is a calculating personality who’s had a great life – public high school & Cal State grad. His roommates are a medical resident and a finance grad working in financial industry at high pay.

    He and his friends don’t think or speak like this (“dreams”) They say I am going to do this or I want that. Maybe it’s the male vs female thing – but I think it is something much more. You don’t see it. We differ.

    A lot of folks are being left behind and the pace is widening.

    Cranky: You mentioned, “they are in the here and now of the next few hours”. Well that is the problem. Even men in combat need to have a grasp of the larger battlefield. Present oriented people aren’t going to make it in this society. And I’ve known too many people who grew up poor, in war zones, etc to accept your premise. Joyce Kennard of the State Supreme Court grew up in a Prisoner of War Camp in WWII, she didn’t see a light bulb till she was 14, and lost a leg as a teenager while a prisoner. She emigrated to the states with no family at, maybe 19 years old. The legal profession alone in the Bay Area is full of people from modest beginnings. One of my classmates in law school now practicing drove a tow truck at night after class.

    So the stories of how poor/tired/lower class/crime-ridden the kids are doesn’t ever move me. Many people grow up comfortable but so many didn’t who sit beside them in the professions in the Bay Area – poverty doesn’t justify the schools failure to teach and train or the students growing up clueless. It never has, it never will.

  • cranky teacher

    Of COURSE living in such a short-sighted present is a HUGE problem, Nextset.

    My point was not to JUSTIFY but to UNDERSTAND.

    The argument is over the solution.

    We actually don’t disagree as much as you might hope — I can see the case for more discipline, less touchy-feeling stuff, magnet schools, increased tracking, non-college track prep, etc., etc. — but your faulty logic, straw-man arguments and righteous posturing drives me nuts.

  • Nextset

    I have that effect on people sometimes. I don’t reinforce the status quo a lot unless it’s working. If I’m incorrect about things the dialog will bring forward the correct facts. The students of OUSD are doing well, things are getting better, everything is just fine… they’ll even compete with Piedmont and Berkeley.

  • Sue

    Arwa Says:
    June 10th, 2008 at 10:09 am
    Great pictures! Its always an inspiration to see students closer to their dreams.

    Nextset Says:
    June 12th, 2008 at 2:18 pm
    Sue: I think my real problem is that as I mentioned, whenever I hear that word being used this way the speaker (usually black) is in trouble or headed for trouble, or is unrealistic.

    So, when Arwa made the comment I quoted, which was the beginning of your whole anti-dream novel, was s/he:
    A) in trouble
    B) headed for trouble
    C) unrealistic

    I’m afraid I don’t see any of those three options in that one simple sentence, so could you please explain/justify your choice?

    What’s the problem with finding inspiration in someone else’s completion of a major milestone in life?

  • Nextset

    Sue: What is your background/occupation again?

    It might help me understand your inability to see in this instance. I may also help me to frame an answer to your question.

    I’ve been thinking about the “anti dream novel” you’ve referred to and with a little research I have more material on the subject. However I’m thinking that this is not the thread to continue this line on. If Katy wants to take us further in this direction she knows how to frame a question.

    And I’m not looking to pop everybody’s bubble all the time. The photos were of OUSD students happy on graduation day. Good for them. The post that started this branch of discussion included the use of a term which I well know to be a red flag for trouble. I’ll probably return to the issue in time because the issue is married to the greater issue of deadly mis-education of (largely black) urban children.

    You think it’s perhaps a cute term, I believe I know better.

  • Sue

    Nope. Knowing my employment won’t help you, I’m afraid…

    I’m very different from the stereotypical post-adolescent male with coke-bottle-bottom glasses and bad skin, still living in his parents’ basement, eating nothing but potato chips and twinkies, and writing brilliant computer-applications in 36-hour, no-sleep, marathon coding sessions.
    (Full disclosure: the bad-skin part used to fit. Now that I’m peri-menopausal, my skin is finally reasonably clear!)

    You’ll just have to try to talk to me like a parent, and a unique human being – if you still want to talk to me at all – since I’m an unlikely candidate for any pigeon-holes. I never seem to fit anyone’s categories. And I’m used to being disliked by folks who need their nice neat categories to figure out how to deal with others, because trying to figure out how to deal with someone who can’t be categorized usually causes headaches and stress.

  • Sue

    Went back and reread all my previous posts – where did “cute” come from? It certainly wasn’t from me.

    I thought I was pretty clear, but I’ll say it again:
    A dream can be a motivator to work for something, and at its best it might be a long-term goal. Without motivation, the work won’t get done. Without work, a dream is just synapses firing, a fanatasy. Without the dream, though, where’s the motivation going to come from?

  • John

    First, “Life is but a dream rounded by a sleep;”

    Second, “Row row row your boat…merrily merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream.”

    Third: We musn’t forget that Martin Luther King had “a dream.”

    Here’s some lyrics I made up and had my Kindergarteners perform at Afro American Month school assemblies. Unfortunately it got discriminated against and never won a district Oratorical Fest. Want to sing along!?

    [Sung to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star]:

    “Martin Martin Luther King, Martin Luther had a dream.
    When he woke up he said let’s march! March march march march.
    Marching here and marching there, marching marching everywhere.
    We will come and we will go, we will over come you know.”

    Share it with your OPS teacher friends. Sooner or later it’s gonna win big and I’ll be invited to an OUSD board meeting to receive an Oratorical Fest Award and realize the fulfillment of my life’s dream before it gets “rounded by a sleep.”

    P.S. Did I ever share that I’m pre-prostate problematic?

  • unknown

    i know some of the people in the pics.they are mixed with all kinds of races,not just african american.when you look in the backgrounds of the pics you’ll see different races.what nextset said was kind of offensive to me.