15 Mar

Wednesday was the day of the graduation ceremony for my junior high school, and let me tell you, it was a Big Deal.  In my experience in America, public junior high school graduations aren’t usually extravagant; mine wasn’t even called a graduation, but a “finale” or something of the like, I guess to signify to our parents that they shouldn’t get too excited; we weren’t going to get a diploma or anything like that.  I’ve heard similar stories from friends; while there was a little something to celebrate the accomplishment of finishing three years of schooling, it wasn’t a formal graduation ceremony.  

However, here, where pretty much everything is formal, junior high school graduation is a very important occasion.  I was told to wear a formal suit, which I dutifully did, wearing my hair and makeup much the same as I do every day.  However I arrived at school to find that everyone had done the same– which is hugely different from normal, when usually I’m the only person in the school who dresses up.  My coworkers, who usually wear track suits or slouchy sweaters and their hair in ponytails or, for the guys, barely having been brushed after waking up, were dressed to the nines in fancy suits with pearls and extravagant updos for the women and clearly styled hair and silk ties for the men.  I was glad I always dress up, since I fit right in with the crowd by and large, but the real surprise was the one female third-year (the graduating class) teacher, who was dressed in a full formal graduation kimono.  

The kids, who are usually allowed to wear school-issue sweatsuits to class (presumably to allow them to study more comfortably) were also dressed up in their formal uniforms, and the third year students all had flowers for their lapels in their class colour.  They filed into the gym to classical music, did sharp military turns at every corner, and all stood and sat in unison.  They were required to stand, bow, sit, and then immediately stand up again multiple times throughout the ceremony, and did so as if they had been trained by a drill sergeant– no wonder they had been practicing for graduation for the past few weeks, I realized!  

The ceremony was long and included each student having her or his name called before receiving her or his diploma, a speech from the principal, speeches from various PTA and school board people, a speech from a representative from the parents of the graduating students, a speech from a second year (remaining student) and a speech from a third year (graduating student).  There was a bunch of ceremonial walking around and receiving and giving of gifts, and at the end, the first and second year remaining students and the third years both sang songs.  It was much like an American graduation in that it was long and boring, but it all was made worse by the fact that we were sitting stiff as boards in the freezing school gymnasium.  

Probably the most exciting part of the ceremony was the fact that three students fainted over the course of the morning.  I was very alarmed at the time when students started suddenly falling out of their chairs, but I learned later from other friends in the area that this is in fact normal.  I’ve heard it theorized that it’s because of how rigidly the students are forced to sit during class, but whatever the reason, in my town, it’s common for students to simply faint in the middle of graduation.  Who would have guessed.  

This year’s graduation wasn’t so sad for me… because of entrance exams and because my third years have behavioral issues, I didn’t teach them this year.  But next year, when this year’s second years graduate, I’m sure I’ll be very sad… I guess I’ll just have to enjoy my last year with them to the fullest!


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