Though Country Day has many traditions, perhaps the most memorable are its high-school graduation skits.
Performed each year at graduation by high-school faculty, the personalized skits either “roast” or “toast” each graduating senior, with faculty actors recalling their students’ memorable events and funny quirks. The faculty begins preparing many weeks in advance by writing scripts and creating costumes and props.
Seniors are given the option to receive a roast or toast prior to the faculty planning. However, this year, a few expressed concerns regarding the skits’ content.
“A group of friends and I were talking about if we wanted a roast or toast (when it came up),” a senior girl said. “I don’t think we really expected the teachers to do something about (our worries).”
The student explained that until she reached senior year, she hadn’t imagined how nervous she would feel about having a roast. For this reason, she has chosen to be toasted instead.
“I’d rather have peace of mind at graduation than feel uncomfortable and anxious,” she explained. “I thought about how other seniors have felt when teachers said stuff about their personal business.”
As a result of the students’ concerns, in addition to the “roast or toast” option, students have met individually with senior adviser Kellie Whited to clarify what topics – if any – they do not want mentioned in the skits.
“Teachers generally know which information they can include and which is too sensitive for Grandma (in the audience),” Whited said.
“No one ever goes into the skits with the intention of embarrassing someone.”
Despite this, some students were still uneasy about certain topics being part of the skit.
“(When my friends and I were talking about the skits), we were citing a couple of previous years when things went a little badly,” senior Isabelle Leavy said.
“After that point, it turned into not just complaining but doing something, even if it was something small.”
In order to get a sense of how her fellow seniors felt about the roasts, Leavy sent out an email poll during a class meeting on Jan. 31.
The poll asked about any issues seniors had with the skits, what they did and did not like about the skits, and for them to pick a method to improve the skits’ process.
The results showed that although only 13 percent of seniors had an issue with the roasts, 62 percent wanted an “off-limits” list that would allow students to (share) things they were uncomfortable with being discussed.
Whited and head of high school Brooke Wells wanted to ensure they addressed concerned students as well as take the students’ preferences into account, resulting in the individual meetings.
“I like being an advocate for the students, as does every teacher,” Whited said. “I’m honored to be able to be their voice.”
Thus, when seniors filled out the forms selecting a roast or a toast, they also listed any information they wanted excluded from their skits.
“There was some backlash,” Leavy said. “Some people were saying that by putting things on an ‘off-limits’ list, you were limiting teachers – that the teachers wouldn’t have anything to work with.
“(But) I think we made the right choice. I think the way it is now will improve the situation.”
In addition to the “off-limits” list, students signed their forms before handing them in to Whited. Whited has shared the forms with Wells and the faculty members writing and performing in the individual student’s skit.
“We’ve discussed what information to leave out in the past; this just makes it more formal and prevents mistakes,” Whited said.
Whited also talked with seniors about what their expectations are for their skits as well as what their parents’ or family members’ expectations are.
“We want to protect the students,” Whited said. “Some want it to be big and funny, but their parents might have a different idea.”
Another senior girl explained why she is in this situation.
“I don’t get embarrassed easily, and I’d take any roast in good faith,” she said.
“However, there are certain things that, if said, could get me into serious trouble with my parents. I don’t want my graduation night to be (followed) by angry questioning and yelling, as I’m sure most people wouldn’t.”
Senior Alexa Mathisen, who has asked for a toast, added that extended family might find the skits uncomfortable as well.
“I think the skits should be done in a more private setting where it’s just students and parents,” she said.
“I don’t feel comfortable with my (extended) family that I don’t see very often hearing a roast. I don’t want them to be upset or confused.”
Although Mathisen said she would like to do away with the skits altogether, she understands their importance.
Whited touched on this as well, emphasizing that the faculty’s goal is to honor the seniors.
“The skits are our gifts to the students to show how much we care about them,” she said.
“It’s one of the best parts of my job. I look forward to them, and I (start planning for some students) years before they graduate.”
Wells added that this is a night where seniors should be celebrated.
“It’s a joyous time! No one should end up feeling bad about it,” he said.
Whited noted the skits’ individuality as something that makes Country Day’s graduation ceremony special.
“It’s a continuation of what makes us unique (as a school),” she said. “I’ve never seen another graduation like it.”
Graduation at Country Day has a rich history. Since the school’s first graduating class in 1971, parents and teachers have participated in zany, often individualized tributes to seniors.
“Words of Wisdom to the Graduating Class” from 1971 grew into “Parting Shots,” spur-of-the-moment thoughts from the audience – the ancestor of the present-day skits.
Other unique features included neighborhood processions, clever songs tailored to each student and hundreds of soap bubbles being released into the sky.
Although the tradition has continued, by the time former head of school Steven Repsher arrived in 2003, he felt that the skits were beginning to cross the line.
“I think it became a bit too slapstick and over-the-top,” he said.
In 2006, the roast aspect was done away with altogether by the faculty as a response to an inappropriate senior prank. Seniors instead received toasts and an individualized book. However, the class of ‘07 badly wanted to return to the tradition and brought it back the next year.
“When it came back in 2007, it was decidedly more respectful of the individuals,” Repsher said.
“I’d been pushing for teachers to err on the side of kindness and compassion, even at the risk of making (the skits) a bit blander than they might otherwise be.
“It would be nice if students could have a ‘lightly roasted’ or ‘lightly toasted’ option. Give them some choices so it’s not (such a) tough (decision).”
Though the skits continue, new people keep things fresh.
As this is head of school Lee Thomsen’s first year at Country Day, he has yet to see the famous roasts and toasts.
“I’ve heard incredible stories about how magical the evening is compared to other (school’s graduation ceremonies),” Thomsen said.
“I’m incredibly curious (as to) what the experience is like. I’ve heard that the skits are hilarious, the faculty are very talented and that they frequently capture students to a T.”