The Uplift Peak Preparatory graduation was almost like any other high school graduation ceremony. Parents flapped programs in their faces back and forth to cool them down from the hot summer air. Infant relatives cried and screamed in the silence that preceded the start of the ceremony. Graduates flooded into the room of Park Cities Baptist Church single file and into their seats.
On the top of nearly all the 77 graduate’s caps were individualized signs of appreciation for their parents. Some simply said “I love you mom and dad.” Others were decorated with glitter and gold lettering, with one reading “She turned her can’ts into cans, her dreams into plans.”
Whirlpool Brand, a home appliance company, and Lea Michele, former Glee star, have teamed together to start the integrated campaign Congrats, Parents. Parents and caregivers are responsible for 7,488 loads of laundry, 2,700 loads of dishes and 19,710 meals before graduates walk the stage.
The campaign flips the traditional narrative of high school graduation to recognize the acts of care that parents provide throughout students’ academic career, according to Whirlpool. In addition to appreciation shown through students’ “Care Caps,” certain parents, based on submissions from students, teachers and school staff, received the “Care Cum Laude” honor.
After speeches from the top of their class at Uplift Peak, attendees were given an introduction to Lea Michele’s accomplishments before her commencement speech. After her being introduced, about a minute and a half of awkward silence rang out through the church. Finally, Michele appeared from backstage, phone in hand, live streaming the event.
“Everybody say hi,” she says. “Are you all waiting for me? That’s embarrassing.”
The former Glee actress says high school was an important part of her personal and professional life. It was as if she had two high school experiences: the real one, where she attended Tenafly High School in New Jersey, and the fake one, where she acted on the set of Glee.
“A lot of you are receiving a lot of attention today, and you deserve it,” she says. “But I’m here on behalf of our friends at Whirlpool brand to make sure some other special people receive some of the spotlight. That’s your parents.”
Michele asked students to think about all the times their parents supported them, encouraged them and picked them up after making a mistake. She says behind every graduate at Uplift Peak and the 3.6 million others that make up the class of 2018 in the U.S., is a lifetime of care.
“Congrats, parents, for making it through the early mornings, and late nights,” she says. “For thousands of simple acts of care day in and day out throughout your lives.”
Michele says she is an only child, and her parents made her the center of their lives. She would not have got through high school if it were not for them, she says.
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Her attendance of the Uplift Peak graduation is mildly ironic given recent rumors online of the actress’ inability to read. The rumor started with Jaye Hunt and Robert Ackerman, fans of Glee and creators of the podcast One More Thing. However, Michele says she worked hard through high school to obtain a 3.8 grade point average.
“I think it just goes to show that people have a lot of times on their hands,” she says. “It’s really sad actually.”
Throughout the rest of the ceremony, speakers reminisced about their journies in high school and moments they shared with their parents. Some laughed, and some cried, but when it was all over, everyone in the church screamed with excitement as graduates threw their caps in the air, made their way to their parents and on to the next stage of their lives.