My wife and I recently attended the graduation ceremony of a staff member of ours who had completed a course in Early Childhood Development through Embury College. It was quite an affair.

300 odd graduates most of them with a guest, in a conference room at the old airport decked out like a wedding reception; round tables; crisp table clothes; decorations; white chairs with gold tie-backs; a buffet-style meal; an official photographer. Although the courses were short – 1 year – every graduate wore a graduation gown complete with mortar board. We were like proud parents.

Before I continue I should point out that our staff member runs our NGO’s creche up in Hammarsdale near Pietermaritzburg. She is lucky enough to be employed. Many of her fellow graduates will only get work after they qualify and at that, if they are lucky as most of them are young and inexperienced.

We wrongly assumed that her graduation was included in the course fee. So, you can imagine our shock when she told us that she had to cough up R400 to attend her own graduation – they all had (as opposed to the R150 per head us guests paid). And this excluded photos, which is really what they all wanted. Now to put the economics of all this into some perspective, the whole course only cost R1600.

The photographer hustled them relentlessly for business and his price list ranged from R250 for 3 x A4 pics (no frames) to R450 for 3 x A4 pics (no frames). Frames were an extra R50 each. So, if they wanted pictures in a frame, this event would have cost these young, unemployed ladies from some far-flung areas between R650 and R850. That’s before they bought or hired fancy outfits (and they were fancy!) and got transport. Of course, few of them could afford photos and by the end of the event the sleazy photographer was offering pictures for R20.  

Did this event really cost Embury roughly R165,000 to stage (300 x R400 plus 300 x R150)? And why did the guests pay R150 and the graduates R400? R250 for the hire of a graduation gown?

We must celebrate success wherever we find it – particularly in education. But come on Embury! Why not have these graduations in the communities the graduates come from and get local graduates to project manage them for a fee? They can commission community suppliers – cooks, flower arrangers, local DJ’s, photographers et – to do the event at a fraction of the cost and channel the money back into the communities where it is needed most.

Or is there perhaps something I’m missing here?