In recent years, some high schools have been fazing out graduation projects as a requirement for receiving a diploma. Supposedly such projects are being replaced by exams and some sort of analytical hokum. I'm all for results, and without knowing more about the real-life impact of grad projects getting the ax—data that won't be fully-fleshed for a few more years—I can only speak on the subject from a theoretical standpoint. More casually put, the following is my opinion.
When I was in high school a few short years ago, most students kind of laughed about graduation projects. They didn't take them seriously, and many waited until the very last minute to complete them. To be fair, I can hardly blame them for that, being the recent author of an article on the virtues of procrastination. Everyone completed their project or didn't graduate. Them's was the breaks. Graduation projects took around twenty to forty hours to complete, based upon the school's standards. It wasn't the sort of thing to pull off overnight. For anyone who didn't create a vested interest for themselves in the project probably hated it. I imagine their grumbling probably helped spell the end of the good ol' graduation project.
At my school, community service, job shadowing, and creative works were all appropriate projects toward the graduation standards. I expect that students elsewhere had similar options. There were plenty of opportunities to have a little fun while completing the project, but I don't think many students seized those opportunities. Getting students to do the work was kind of like getting the author of Calvin and Hobbes (one strip of which appears above) to do an interview—it happened eventually, but only once, and only after years of nagging. For everyone who finished their project and subsequently graduated, they accomplished a great feat. To me, high school isn't really about accomplishing anything in particular. It's more about setting yourself up to accomplish good things in the future. With a graduation project, students were able to accomplish a little something while still in school, outside of the general norms of high school essays, competitions, and part-time jobs.
Students may grumble and whine about grad projects when they're being enforced, but I truly don't believe that this means that they shouldn't be around. The approach of faculty toward these projects was rarely enthusiastic, and the possibilities inherent in the project guidelines were never neatly expounded on. In my opinion, graduation projects should be restored where they have disappeared, and this time they should be framed as what they are: great opportunities for students to accomplish a little something awesome outside of the normal high school crawl.