Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Graduating in the Village

All ready for graduation

 The expression “it takes a village to raise a child” is popular Japan, and its relevance clearly evident at the graduation ceremonies for elementary and junior high schools. Friday’s JHS graduation ceremony was attended not only by teachers and family members, but by a whole host of people who contributed to raising the kids we are sending out into the world. The principals from the elementary schools they attended came to congratulate them. Representatives from the local community halls and youth centres came. The elderly people who volunteer to stand out in the freezing cold every morning to attempt to protect the children from cars as they walk to school attended. A representative from the local police box was there. Vice Principals from the high schools a majority of our students go to were there. Some of last year’s graduates came in their high school uniforms to congratulate their kohai. Messages sent from those unable to attend in person lined the walls, including the Superintendent of the Board of Education and sports clubs from other schools that our clubs had engaged in rivalry with over the past three years.

The evening before the ceremony the second graders decorated the third grade classrooms with paper flowers, bunting, ribbons and thank-you messages. Each graduating class was led into the hall at the start of the ceremony by a second grade representative. The second graders made a speech thanking the third graders and promising to protect the traditions they were inheriting as the new school seniors, then first and second graders sang a song for the third graders. The third graders in turn thanked the second graders, as well as everyone else, and sang their own song. This symbolic handing over of the school I something I love. Although the kohai-sempai system certainly contributes to bullying issues, the strength of the relationships formed between senior and junior students is phenomenal and beautiful when it works they way it is supposed to.

I get asked a lot at this time of year what graduation ceremonies are like in Australia. It might differ from state to state, but Tasmania just doesn’t have them. According to my friends who went to school, the last day of classes is the last day of school, then you leave. That’s it. You get your high school certificate in the post. Even my first university graduation was anti-climactic. Richard Flanagan gave a great speech, but the rest was pretty rubbish. We walked across the stage, got our diplomas, flipped the tassels on our caps to the other side then had lamingtons and very very cheap champagne in the uni café. I didn’t know anyone who was graduating in the same ceremony well, and once the lamingtons ran out I went home and baked a lasagne for myself. A few hours later my mum called and said “We probably should have taken you out for dinner or something, shouldn’t we? Want us to drive back into town and take you somewhere?” I’d already eaten, so I said no, and just spent the evening playing Warcraft III by myself. I’m pretty happy being alone most of the time, honestly, but sometimes it would be nice to have a village.

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  1. This is where I put on my privileged, private school sector hat (it was a maroon bowler in winter/a straw boater in summer).
    The private schools have annual speech nights which are something that I still miss. Each year group would perform an item, there would be various pieces by dance and music groups, whole school choir pieces and hours of speeches and prize giving.
    There was also a final assembly, which differed from weekly assemblies and sport assemblies as it was a prize giving affair. As my school went from pre-kinder to grade 12 (about 14 years of schooling, 15+ if you went to day care there) there was only really a 'graduation' assembly for the grade 12s, although there was a similar assembly for the senior girls as they moved from the primary school campuses to the senior campus.
    There would be prizes, House cups (I got the equivalent of the Gryffindor House Cup), Sporting cups, service awards for prefects and more speeches. The new Head girl would be given a red camelia from an old girl's garden by the out-going Head girl. Finally, we received certificates from the school that listed what were perceived to be our key achievements during our time at the school. These were awarded to the Head girl first, and then the rest of the year alphabetically. Tradition dictated that we would process out of the hall with our certificates, ring a hundred year old bell and then form an honour guard for the rest of our year.
    So what I'm saying is that ceremonies like Sophelia described above, do happen in her home state, but they are a class thing ...

    1. That's a really, really good an interesting point (さすが!). However, I still maintain that the "village" aspect is lacking. What you describe sounds quite hermetical, right?


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