School is different for everyone. Some people coast through without having to open a book, some don't. But either way, everyone will graduate. At least, that's how it is in fiction. In reality some people just don't graduate.
This is probably used for good reason, as it's no fun to watch someone drop out, or not earn the credits they need to graduate. But it can also be a glaring error when someone who made straight Fs or Ds graduates with their class. Sometimes this is Hand Waved as the character doing enough extra credit work to make up for what they missed. But even then, this is hard to believe. Most teachers will only assign extra credit work to those who are already passing. This trope will often go hand-in-hand with Ivy League for Everyone.
In the case of an overly dramatic series, this can be used to create a happy ending. This is exceedingly common in American works.
When it happens in Real Life, this is called social promotion. As a general rule in America, this is standard in elementary education, possible in middle school and not supposed to happen in high school, but this varies between schools, districts, and teachers.
- Beautifully subverted in Monsters University when Mike and Sulley are expelled and work their way up at Monsters Inc. until they reach where they are in the first film.
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is going to fail his History class, which means he wouldn't graduate. However, on the evening of the graduation dance, Mr. Hand shows up at Spicoli's house and informs him that since he has wasted eight hours of class time over the past year, Mr. Hand intends to make up for that time now. They proceed to have a one-on-one tutoring session that lasts until Mr. Hand is satisfied that Spicoli has understood the lesson and finally tells him he will pass him with a D (the lowest possible passing grade).
- Played painfully straight in Eclipse. Bella and all the Cullens in her grade graduate with everyone else, despite the Cullen family skipping school every time its sunny and flat-out leaving without explanation for most of the second book, while Bella's own attendance record is only slightly less sketchy (she disappears for a brief period in the first book, when she runs away to Phoenix, and mentally checks out for most of the second book before running off to Italy). They also somehow are all accepted to incredibly prestigious colleges.
- Averted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Oz had to repeat the 12th grade.
Oz: Well, it's sort of a funny story. You remember when I didn't graduate?Willow: Well, I know you had a lot of incompletes, but that's what summer school was for.Oz: Yeah, well, you remember when I didn't go?
- Of course, the out-of-universe purpose served by this was to keep him at Sunnydale High with the other characters even though he was a year older than them.
- Buffy, who barely had time to study and missed class most of the time due to having to fight monsters all the time, was able to graduate in season 3 after getting help from Willow. She also got very good SAT scores. In later seasons, due to having to take on even more responsibilities after her mother's death, she was forced to drop out of university.
- In Saved by the Bell, Zack is almost never shown studying, and a few times it is shown that he is close to failing out of at least one class, yet he graduates with everyone and (in The Movie) gets into Yale. He was always portrayed as Brilliant, but Lazy rather than Book Dumb, but still.
- On The George Lopez Show, a running plot point is the question of whether Max, George's dyslexic and generally Book Dumb son, would have to repeat the fifth grade. To the show's credit, it even notes that it might be better for him if he does repeat; however, he squeaks by enough to pass. George himself never went to college, and his difficulty with school is partially attributed to also struggling with dyslexia. As an adult, he takes a community college course because he wanted to be a good role model for Max.
- On Happy Days, Fonzie spent the first four seasons as a high school dropout. There was even one early episode where he returns only to quickly drop out again. When it came time for Richie, Potsie, and Ralph to graduate, Fonzie started attending night school and graduated alongside them. They did note that it was unusual for a night school student to attend graduation, but the fact that he caught up is still amazing.
- Averted on Glee, where Puck's struggling in history class leading to pending graduation became a substantial plot line. However, everyone was shocked when they found out that Brittany didn't graduate and would be spending another year in high school, but she's quick to point out that she maintained a 0.0 grade-point average.
- On Drake & Josh, Drake had to retake algebra at least once and almost didn't graduate only because he never went to gym class. He had to win a dance contest for extra credit.
- The Suite Life on Deck: London graduated with Zack and Cody, though had some difficulty near the end. In the first series, she's stated as being at least three years older than the twins, so it's safe to assume that she probably got Held Back in School a few times.
- Averted in the backstory of Arthur's Binky Barnes, who's repeating fourth grade. Then the series gets firmly frozen in time, so who's to say if he'll ever graduate or not.
- It was also revealed that Brain had to repeat kindergarten, which is why he's larger & more athletic than the other kids in his class. It's a big secret though, so don't tell anybody!
- In the last episode of Hercules: The Animated Series, everyone in Herc's grade manages to graduate—except for Adonis, who, much to his horror, has to go to summer school in order to graduate.
- Much like the example in Hercules, everyone in Kim Possible and Ron Stopabble's grade except for Bonnie Rockwaller was able to graduate—according to Steve Barkin, Bonnie apparently blew off all of her classes during the last week of school (Bonnie openly claims to Barkin, "Nothing important ever happens during the last week of school"). However, it turns out that due to skipping the last week of school, Bonnie missed an important exam in one of her classes, which, according to Barkin, leaves her just one credit short of being able to graduate—as a result, Bonnie has to go to summer school (with Barkin) in order to get her high school diploma.
- It's revealed in TaleSpin that Baloo never graduated from grade school, and thus may be barred from attending his class reunion.
- Averted in Daria. Dumb jock Kevin actually doesn't graduate with the others because his grades were so bad. You'd think he would have been cut from the football team first until his grades improved, but there you go.
- The Simpsons: When Homer and Marge Simpson attend their high school reunion, it's revealed that Homer failed one of his classes and thus never (technically) graduated. This was actually foreshadowed in an earlier episode (one that shows how Marge and Homer met and ultimately started dating) where he avoids Marge before their high school prom by not going to school for two weeks (and missing the relevant classes).
- In Hey Arnold!, Harold is 13 years old, despite being in 4th grade, due to having failed a few times.