Monday, March 19, 2012


I'll be attending one of my elementary schools' graduation ceremonies on Friday. At first, it seemed a little strange because I don't remember there being any graduation ceremony at my elementary school. I was also a little peeved that I could only go to one of the four, as they are all being held at the same time.

In Japanese, ceremonies are held at each benchmark. The ceremonies are held at the end of March (now), right before the start of the new semester in early April. Graduation is held in the gymnasium, with seating in the middle for students and parents and seating on the sides for teachers and special guests (such as the head of the school board).

I was privileged to watch a rehearsal last week. One thing that surprised me is that the kohai (underclassmen) also attend the ceremony. I don't recall seeing any juniors or sophomores when I graduated from high school! Because of the strong connection between grades, all students are present. The graduates and the underclassmen (let's call them senpai and kohai for now) speak to each other, then sing to each other. I am not familiar with traditional Japanese songs, so I'm not sure what they were singing. According to Wikipedia, they might have been the Japanese National Anthem, the village song, and the school song.

The ceremony is incredibly quiet. I remember attending an elementary school festival a few months before Christmas and being surprised at how utterly silent the parents were. There is no clapping, whistling, or shouting unless at specified intervals. It gives the whole event an air of professionalism, but doesn't feel very fun or spontaneous.

Finally, the certificate ceremony itself: "The principal reads the diploma out loud once to the first student in each class. The diploma is handed over full size in an open cover (not rolled-up). The principal rotates the diploma to face the student and hands it to them. The student receives the diploma by using their left hand first, and then their right hand before pulling it towards them. The student steps back and exchanges bows with the principal. The student then slowly closes the diploma and folds it under their left hand before turning and walking away. Returning to their seats, students stop and bow to the special guests." Complicated, no?

Anyway, I'm eager to see my students one more time, even if it is not in the usual setting. Hopefully their ceremony goes smoothly and everyone has a joyful experience.

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