I attended my daughter’s junior high school graduation ceremony on Sunday, March 16, 2008. The day dawned with gray skies and for a time I worried it might turn to rain. But it turned out to be a sunny, warm spring day, the kind of day to give birth to dreams and simultaneously dash hearts to pulp on the rocks of life. It’s so lonely in the spring when you feel that everything you know is racing away from you at the speed of thought. I wished I had taken my sunglasses to the ceremony.
As a measure of the importance of education, school ceremonies are more important for Japanese than I remember them being for
Canadians, but maybe things have changed. A school year here features one Entrance Ceremonies for new students, three Opening Ceremonies (one for each term of the school year), a Closing Ceremony, plus the penultimate Graduation Ceremony.
Japanese like displays of sincere emotion at Graduation, so there are many crocodile tears, as well.
I was interested to see a couple girls hanging around in front of the school gates across the road from the auditorium after the ceremony. They were dressed out in Shibuya girl black fashion and standing in practiced, affected insolent postures of defiance. (I am well familiar with that kind of affectation.) They were obviously not students, and I surmised that they were alumni - perhaps from last year’s crop - come back to their old school to see friends and to search for some lost feelings of attachment, decked out in their rebellious college student fashions symbolizing their rebellion while simultaneously soliciting readmission to the group. Lost sheep, between flocks thirsting for affirmation. It was easy to surmise who they were and what was motivating them because I know that place. I was there. We come from the same breed. We read the same book. We were siblings of the heart. But I could not help them. It was not for me to give them affirmation.
Generally speaking, I have long disdained graduation ceremonies - at least my own, anyway. As a teacher I disagree with a lot of the popular cachet of pedagogy. But that does not prevent me from supporting and implementing things that I disagree with. And after all, there is no obligation for me to be bound to school policies when the law guarantees me freedom of conscience, meaning the freedom to think and believe anything I want with impunity.
I attended my high school graduation, but I did not participate in it on principle. I enjoyed my company of friends at school, but I despised school itself, I loathed the idiot teachers, and I felt nauseous at the idea of the smarmy principal - a man who later was promoted to a Board of Education office position which I thought was a good thing if it removed him from regular direct contact with students. The graduation ritual was a false pretense, a pretense that we had a good time and would miss each other. Not me.
I did not attend my two university undergraduate graduation ceremonies because I did not enjoy my undergraduate years and felt as I did in high school, that the ceremony was a transparently false pretense and therefore a gross insult by everyone to each other. So out of my great brotherly love of humanity I absented myself. I felt, and still feel, that I owe no thanks to university for my education. I took my education, which is the only real way of getting it, anyway. And I did not have fun. I did, however, attend my divinity school graduation. I thought that was worth it.
That is all about my philosophy of schooling and graduation. From a purely emotional perspective graduation represents not sweet reminiscence so much as the End of the Word as we know it, which is not a happy occasion to celebrate. Even if you dislike school and feel nauseous at the idiot teachers, principals and classmates the devil you know is preferable to the devil you don’t. It demonstrates how people are pushed into the world kicking and screaming. We kick and scream from birth to death, and have to accept bullying from everyone.