Both my children had school graduation ceremonies in March this year, coincidentally both on sunny, cool days. On Thursday, March 24th my 12-year-old son, Ken, graduated from the local Shinmei Public Elementary School. The next week my 18-year-old daughter, Emma, graduated from her private senior high school, Joshibi Joshi Gakuen, on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. Her ceremony was postponed from its original date of Wednesday 16thbecause of the disastrous Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake that struck Japan on Friday, March 11, 2011.
My son’s school graduated 75 children in two classes. There were only a handful of kimonos among the women, including my wife, Junko, decked out in a new green kimono. Distribution of diplomas, speeches and songs took two hours. My daughter’s school graduated almost 200 girls in five classes in the school’s brand new auditorium in a ceremony that took only 90-minutes. (There was less music.) This time Junko donned the same peach kimono that my mother-in-law wore to our wedding inGuelph nineteen years ago. On both occasions I self-consciously noticed that I was the only man wearing a ceremonial white necktie. No other father, and even the schools’ principals, male teachers, and PTA fathers did not wear white. Junko supported me with assurances that I was the best looking.
Very few awards are distributed at a Japanese graduation ceremony. Unlike Canada where students can expect to get awards for top marks in various subjects, the primary award at a Japanese graduation is for attendance. I saw about twenty graduating high school girls at Emma’s ceremony receive prizes for three years of perfect attendance. (The Japanese school year features about 260-days compared with about 180-days in most of North America.)
In the 1990s I worked at a combined elementary/junior high/senior high school where it was possible for students to do all of their K-to-12 schooling at one locale. In those days I was required then to attend school Opening Ceremonies and Graduation Ceremonies, English Speech Contests, etc., and occasionally give a speech myself. I witnessed students at that school getting awards for three years of perfect attendance, six years, and believe it or not once I even saw a girl get a special award for 12-years of perfect attendance! I’m split between admiring it and mocking it. Or, admiring it only like a circus freak show, like a weird Guinness World Record, or a fantastic Ripley’s Believe It or Not tale.
In Canada I never attended a graduation ceremony myself until graduate school, from the McMaster Divinity Collegein the spring of 1987. It was the only school experience worth commemorating with a graduation ceremony and with feelings of affection and gratitude as far as I was concerned.
First, when I was in elementary school at John McCrae Public School there wasno graduation ceremony. Not in those days. On the last day of school we just cleaned up, collected our report cards and then went home. The end. I suppose today most Ontarioschool boards do have elementary school graduation ceremonies. I really don’t see much point to it except as a function of feel good self-esteemism which is more popular among adults than among children.
Then in 1981 I deliberately and pointedly boycotted my Centennial CVI graduation ceremony in Guelphbecause the pretense of it was just too disgusting. I loathed most of my school mates. I absolutely detested the twit of a principal we had, and no more than one or two of the teachers meant anything to me. So I thought it was just too disgusting to get up on stage, smile, get a diploma, shake someone’s hand and pretend I was happy and thankful about the whole awful high school experience. The good old days never existed. In fact, today I am still waiting for the good days to start. (That ship is long gone.) The graduation ceremony would have been like being forced to swallow feces and then call it ice cream. But that’s what society expects of people, isn’t it? Schooling, not education, is the function of school. That is why school is called that, and people who refuse to swallow the feces and call it ice cream are ostracized, or worse. I picked up my graduation diploma at the school office. Some time later I tore it in half in a fit of passion. Don’t ask why, because the reason and the circumstances are not for re-telling here. But there were circumstances and I did have reasons (even if in hindsight they might not have been very good ones). Today that diploma sit in a cheap plastic frame in Guelph and if you look at it closely you can see that it is indeed rent down the middle.
Then came university. First, Wilfrid Laurier, then transfer to Queen’s. My experiences at both were nothing to commemorate with artificially garlanded memories. There was also the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor. That place was so mixed up it wasn’t even like attending university at all. There was not enough connection between me and the university to draw me back for graduation after classes were done, so they mailed the diploma to me.
As a mater of fact, in addition to not attending graduation I also never participated in any school club. Not in elementary school. Not in high school, and not in university. I figured I did my duty by going to school during the legally prescribed hours for a person of my age. I studied hard, not always successfully. By the end of high school I was a pretty good student, and what I did with my free time was my own freaking business.