Your local Christmas graduate factory

by Tom Deighan

This time of year, I am struck by the sheer volume of Christmas gadgets that appear on the shelves, and I am fascinated how Santa’s Workshop can produce all that stuff. I have always thought of schools as factories, too, but instead of gadgets, we make graduates, and during my career, I have congratulated literally thousands as they exited our assembly line. Some were destined for college, some for work, and some had no plan whatsoever, but this is often the time of year when many realize that graduation is just a semester away, and many of them wonder if they are ready to exit the assembly line. 

I don’t know much about factories, but I once toured a tire plant. To a layperson like me, a tire is a tire is a tire, but the tires they produce are myriad. All tires are road-ready, but high-performance tires must be supple enough to provide excellent traction yet tough enough to survive corners at high speeds. Tractor tires carry weights that would crush normal tires, and everyday car tires fall somewhere in between. The same factory creates all these tires with absolute fidelity and zero waste. I bet Christmas gadgets are less complicated to make.

Unfortunately, making graduates is not so predictable. Factories can produce perfect products, but nothing enters them that might alter the final outcome. Public Schools, however, Welcome All, Serve All, and Love All who walk through their doors. We may manufacture graduates, but we do not exclude anyone from our assembly line. Our students may live in mansions or be homeless. They may have genius IQs, or they may have a severe intellectual disability. They may be star athletes, or they may be quadriplegics. Nevertheless, public schools face the highest expectations to produce perfect, road ready tires with virtually no waste. Every parent wants their child to graduate as ready as possible for the world ahead, and the ramifications are eternal. 

To a lay person, a student is a student is a student, but students are not easy to classify and much more complex to manufacture than tires or gadgets. Critics of public education often point to the imperfect product exiting our assembly line, but they rarely acknowledge the enormous challenge of advancing all children, regardless of status or ability, toward graduation. When a tire exits a factory it can never be anything but the tire that “graduated.” Our students, on the other hand, may graduate as a tractor tire or a replacement donut, but they have the freedom and potential to transform themselves into a Formula One racing tire. Many other countries predetermine how they will exit the school assembly line. Americans, however, know that the students that we manufacture get to pick whichever road they choose and to go as fast as they wish. It’s the American Dream, and it is why public educators do what they do. 

Christmas might be on our minds right now, but our seniors are worrying about things like FASFA’s, finding jobs, and completing their classes on time. They may not show it, but they care deeply. Some are on track to be high-performance, and others don’t know what type of gadget they will be, but please reassure them few of us were ready at this point in our lives, but somehow, we managed to exit the factory road-ready, and few of us are now what we planned to become. If you have a senior in high school this Christmas season, you know it’s not about the Christmas gadgets, and so do they. Fill their stockings with more love than stuff this year, and let them know how you felt back in the day. Somehow, we made it, and so will they, no matter how ready they feel to exit this graduate factory in the months ahead. And if you have no children in school, say a prayer of thanks for your local graduate factories, for they are producing your future neighbors. They are even more amazing than Santa’s Workshop.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at and read past articles at