Thursday, March 19, 2015

Graduation


As we get ready to roll in the rainy month of April (seriously, why does it have to be April???), thoughts of gowns, square mortarboard caps and diplomas probably entered your immediate life yet. After all, graduation is still a couple months away. That night in June is so close and yet so far for those about to graduate, yet here in Japan it has already come and gone.

Here at Serenity High School, we held our graduation ceremony on March 2nd. Yes, you read that right, March 2nd. Much to my surprise the ceremony was a very solemn affair. There was no clapping and shouting and hollering, no noisemakers, laughter or smiles. Everybody was dressed to the nines with the staff being in full suit or kimono and many parents doing the same. Neatly and quietly in rows were the mothers and a scarce spattering of dads as the ceremony was taking place at 9:30 on a Monday morning, and among them a couple of grandparents could be seen. Flanking them were the first and second year students, the former of which I’m sure were asking themselves why they were even there.

In front of all them was an empty stand of stairs awaiting the soon-to-be graduates arrival. On the far side were two rows of tables and chairs, facing toward where the graduates would soon sit. Members of the PTA, middle school principals and even the former mayor of our town would soon claim those seats. Opposite that were rows of chairs for the staff.

The ceremony began with the entrance of the PTA and other VIP guests, so to speak. As each person entered, the staff, including myself bowed in greeting and then, following them, came the third years. Two by two, they bowed as they entered and from the first person until the last was a continuous clapping. A lot of standing, bowing and sitting followed. Then each homeroom teacher called out the list of students names, one at a time. Each student answering, “はい!” before standing up and bowing to the principal on stage. Once each student in a class had stood, one of them was called to the front where they received a diploma for the entire class.

This proceeded for five homerooms and nearly 200 students. There was not one shout, no clapping, no noise of any kind save the reading of, “I present this diploma to…” With the diplomas awarded, the ceremony then turned to the speeches. There were 3 speeches from community members, including one from the former mayor. This was followed by a student speech to the graduating class. The school anthem, and another song followed. The closing words were spoken and the ceremony ended. Another long round of applause for the graduating class followed as they exited one by one while the first and second years stood up and sang Himawari no Yakusoku (if I’m not mistaken).

For the first time since the ceremony’s start I really saw the students. Some of them were beaming, radiant and confident. Others had fright written across their face and yet others were barely containing their tears, or not. For me, this was the best part of the ceremony as they took that first step out of the gymnasium and onto what comes next. This was followed by the exit of the VIP guests and more bowing and, finally, the staff was free to attend to their class meetings, in the case of the third years, or their club activities.

Overall I was very surprised at the ceremony. While it shouldn’t have, the lack of applause surprised me. Also, the solemn air, which I hope my writing conveyed, made me nostalgic for the loud, happy affairs that are graduation back home. The surprising lack of family and fathers due to the early morning weekday graduation were also surprising. This experience is one I hope to remember as a moment of what Japan is.

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