Friday marked my first school graduation. And while this was only a middle school graduation, it carries all of the significance of an American high school graduation since the students all go to different high schools. It carries the same idea of leaving where you are from, leaving your friends and moving on to the next step of life, just like we have for going to college. That being said, it was far different than what I was expecting. That day before we had to practice what we would be doing, though it was more like a dress rehearsal, since it included everything, even the giving of their diplomas. That seemed a little weird to me.
Anyway, for the actual event I suited up, and went to school. I was pretty excited to see how this all worked, as it was one more opportunity to experience the Japanese culture of education. So after taking my seat at the teachers’ table, it was only a short time before it kicked off. Though, before that could happen there was a parade of education big wigs that all sat at a table. All the local principals, PTA members, and plenty of other folks I had never seen before. The first piece of the ceremony was the singing of the Japanese national anthem, which I of course didn’t know at all. Then, they jumped right into the presentation of the diplomas. The students had all really practiced their routes and movements, so they were very precise about where and how they walked. 90 degree turns and strides were all mechanical looking. In turn, they all went up on stage, where they received their paper from the principal (who happened to be dressed in an awesome tailcoat and collarless shirt) and then marched back to their seats.
Here is a snippet showing a lot of what I’ve talked about.
When they were all done, there was a little bit of singing that took place, and then the speeches started. First by the principal, and then the valedictorian equivalent. This was a long speech, and was also where the attitude surrounding the celebration morphed into that of a funeral. He was saying many things, it was a long speech, speaking on each of the teachers (me included) and also experiences and memories. This is when the tears starting flowing. At least half of the students and teachers were crying. Following this speech, was the president of the 2nd years. He got up, and read another one, this time directed at the graduating class. This too seemed very personal, as it set even more people off. In fact he himself started to cry, and despite tears flowing, he continued without a hitch. After all this, there was another song sung, and then the school’s song. Then, after that, everyone turned to face the main aisle, and they they started out towards the back of the gym. Everyone clapped as they made their way, and it was pretty cool. At this point a number of the teachers were completely wailing, as if completely unable to contain their infinite sorrow. One thing that I did like was that it was the principal and their homeroom teacher who ushered them out. The homeroom teacher is the same each year at school, moving through the grades with them, so they get pretty close.
But after it was all done, we had to prepare for a spirit tunnel of sorta, where all the graduates would then walk through with their parents and families. The new graduates were getting some last pep talk in their room for entirely too long, as we stood outside and froze in the bitter wind. Finally they came. It didn’t take too long, but it was nice since a lot of the students and parents said thank you to me. I mean, I’m sure that they were just saying it, to an extent, but it did make me feel good about what I do here. After all this, they students gave flowers with personal messages to the teachers. I got one that said “Thank you for teaching is English. Be as you are Mr. Justin. I will do my best in the future.” That was nice little message to get. Also, after talking to people, it seems that every graduation is filled with tears all across Japan. As they were leaving, I gave them all my e-mail address, and have already heard from a few.
Here is the tunnel action
I really liked the ceremony, it was very Japanese. Though, it was really surprising how much sadness was there. When asked if I cried by one of the students, I said “of course not, graduations are really happy events!” I wasn’t sure if it was just the small town effect, and everyone knowing everyone. Nope. Japan just likes to cry I guess.
Here are the two pictures of my graduating guys and girls. Yes, this is seriously all of them.