22 March 2012

Graduation

Posted by Roland under: JET .

Spring is the season of cherry blossoms and while they usually get associated with the new school year (which starts around April) and recently graduated students starting at their new schools but if the cherry blossoms bloom early enough, they can also get associated with graduating students leaving their schools as well.

One of the frequent thoughts I had in my mind when I was watching my junior high get ready for the graduation and especially during the actual ceremony was that I really had no memories of my junior high graduation. Basically, graduation is a big deal in Japan. In the week or so leading up to graduation, there are a lot of rehearsals for various parts of the ceremony. It’s high on ceremony and speeches so there is a strict procedure on how to do almost everything. Of course, in the Japanese tradition, there’s a lot of bowing and doing things in formation. Possibly the best examples of this are when the other students have to turn and face the procession of graduating students as they enter/exit but also do so in formation all together. There’s also a right way to bow, which needs to be done in time with everyone else (a count of 1-2 to bow, then 3-4 to get back up helps with this). And of course, there’s a good amount of singing, the school song, a song from the students to the graduating class, and from the graduating class to everyone else as they also recount their years in school.

The rehearsals did get a little intense, which helped me recognize how much more meaningful Japanese graduations are. You couldn’t always count on the students to not be at their most enthusiastic/emotional for practice so there were a few calls for to basically sing louder, better, etc.

Knowing the students that we were working with, I fully expected everyone to do their best at the actual ceremony, which did happen to be the case. But, for it being my first graduation, it definitely surpassed my expectations. There’s the slow procession of graduating students as they file in, the distribution of diplomas to everyone (again, with a strict procedure to be followed on how you get on stage, receive the diploma, and descend), speeches from the principal, the PTA president, the parents, and the aforementioned singing. I think the moment that the house was brought down for everyone was when the graduating students got on stage to sing their song, only to break into an interlude in the middle and start to recount their school experience, from coming in, to school trips, club activities, festivals, and so on. A few students started to break down during this part, which made it hard not to tear up yourself.

After the ceremony, the students went back to their homerooms to give speeches to their parents to thank them for their support (during this time, everyone else is cleaning up the gym). But, once the speeches are finished, the graduating students go through a procession from the homerooms to the school exit (for the last time). But along the way, everyone else, students and teachers, are lined up on the route there to offer encouragement and say goodbye one last time. Inevitably, the graduating students will get presents from someone, usually a representative from a club they used to be in or just another friend, which makes it one last big emotional time for everyone as they’re making their final exit. Students will linger around outside for some final pictures with their classmates, some of them who have been classmates since elementary. But eventually, everyone will start to disperse and go back home with their parents, bringing an end to graduation finally.

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