Last Friday my school had its graduation ceremony. In the days leading up to the ceremony, the graduates came to school in strange costumes, sprayed water on the underclassmen, gave presents to their teachers, and sang songs for their teachers. Although they were a little rowdy, these activities didn’t distract too much from the lessons.
(At least there are no senior pranks: Jesse says that his graduating class filled the hallways of the school with chickens. My class was too scared by the principal to do anything. He said that if we pulled a prank or had a senior skip day that we would have to take final exams, which no one wanted to do.)
As I’ve mentioned before, the bilingual program at my school is five years long. So there were three graduating classes of 12th graders and one graduating class of 13th graders. My 13th graders were pretty resistant to my lessons throughout the year, but I must say that things improved in recent weeks. I think they felt like a 5th year of high school was torture, and at last they could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
At some schools, students sing to their teachers during the school day. Others go to their teachers homes in the evening. Last week we were at home when we heard shouting and the clomping of horses hooves. Two horsedrawn wagons parked outside of the neighboring apartment building. About thirty teenagers spilled out of the wagons and
sang screamed a song for one of their teachers. Then the teacher invited them upstairs for a snack.
I think it is nice that there is an official way to express gratitude to teachers here. In the U.S., individual students might give presents or write a letter to their favorite teachers, but there is no organized ritual.
On the day of the commencement ceremony, rain threatened. While the rest of the sky was blue and sunny, one single rain cloud unleashed five minutes of rain on the school yard immediately before the ceremony started. The rest of the time I was nearly blinded by the sun.
When I think of high school graduations, I think of mortar boards, stupid robes, students’ names being called, diplomas presented with a handshake, and the same twenty measures of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance being looped over and over again. The Hungarian ceremony has none of these, and yet it still felt familiar.
There were songs, speeches, and awards. And it was boring, which is probably an international requirement for commencement ceremonies. This one was particularly challenging for me since I only understood every tenth word of Hungarian.
Graduation always entails a mixture of excitement and fear. In this shaky global economy, there is quite a bit of fear. If financing a university education and finding a job is a concern for students in the U.S., it is an even bigger concern in Hungary. Hopefully my students’ fifth year of high school will pay off and their English skills will open doors for them. I wish them all the best.