I hate graduations. Some may say that it is because I don’t like saying goodbye, but that is not it. I do hate to say sayonara to the students who are leaving. I always have and I always will, but that is not the reason I hate attending graduation. The real reason is the music. I have never been a big fan of that Pomp and Circumstance. I always end up singing the alternate lyrics my sister taught me, “My reindeer flies sideways. Your reindeer flies upside down. Blah, blah blah, soooomething. Your reindeer is dead!” I do not really have a good reason and I can’t explain it, but I really hate that song.
Well imagine my surprise and delight when I found out that this particular song is not played at graduations here at Hachiman Junior High School. In fact there is not much in common with an American graduation ceremony. At the same time not all that much is different either. Lots of pomp, tons of circumstance, but at least there was no Pomp and Circumstance.
Graduation was on Tuesday, but the whole thing got started on Monday. Four out of the five classes for the day were cancelled to make time for practice. The students all filed into the gymnasium after first period to get ready for the ceremony the next day. They started by practicing the school song. The student body sang a beautiful rendition of the song over and over. They must have sung that song close to ten times in a row. Just as I was starting to feel bad for them it was time to move on and begin the difficult practice. It was time to perfect the art of standing and bowing in unison. The students were told to stand, bow, and then sit. They where expected to do so in almost perfect unison. All in all it was two hours well spent, and helped facilitate a wonderful graduation ceremony on Tuesday morning.
Tuesday morning came and it was time for me to pull my beautiful blue suit out of the closet and get ready for work. Now I do not usually wear a suit to school but today was a special day. Boy oh boy did I feel out of place as I strolled into the office that morning. There I was in my best blue suit and I looked around at the other teachers. Many of the female teachers were wearing formal kimono, as was one of the male teachers. The rest of the school staff was casually wearing their best black suits. To be honest I did know in advance that all the other teachers would be wearing black as it is the color of formality here. Last year when I was told that I would need to wear formal clothes to graduation I was instructed to wear a black suit. I explained that I did not own a black suit and instead would be wearing a blue one, they got a bit flustered. A few days later I was reminded that I needed to wear a black suit. I again stated that I did not have a black suit and would wear my blue one; I was told that everyone else would be wearing black. It was only when I stated that I did not think that I would be able to find a suit in Japan because I was too tall that I was given special permission to wear my blue suit.
Graduation was set for ten o’clock that morning. There would be no classes for the day. There was the usual meeting first thing in the morning, and then students began to go to the gym for the graduation ceremony. Parents of the graduating third graders began to arrive and found seats at the back of the gym. The gym began to fill. Seats were in three different sections. The largest of the areas was for the non-graduating students to sit. These were the first and second graders. Another smaller section was for the parents. This section became filled with moms and dads all dressed very nicely in their black suits. The next section was reserved for the distinguished guests. These guests of honor were the leaders of the PTA and the principals of the elementary schools and kindergartens that feed into Hachiman Junior High. The last section, and the one closest to the stage, was reserved for the graduating third graders.
The distinguished guests of honor were ushered to their seats and once they were seated the lights were dimmed and the procession began. Each homeroom entered the gym in a double file line. They proceeded to walk down the center aisle and split to sit on either side. Once the third graders had entered it was time for all practice to pay off. The student body was instructed to stand, which they did, in unison. Next it was time to sing the national anthem and then the school song. The VIPs were introduced. Next it was time to award the diploma. Each home room teacher read off the names of the members of their class members. The students then filed up to the stage, received their certificate from the principal, bowed, and exited back to their seat. Next it was time to listen to the commencement speeches. There were two, one from the principal and one from the president of the PTA. There were also some short speeches delivered by students. Last it was time for the good-bye song. The students all sang this to the departing third graders as they will disperse and attend many different high schools next year.
By noon I was back sitting at my desk and ready to eat a sushi lunch provided to all the teachers. Though there are enough differences to make graduation here uniquely Japanese, a graduation is still graduation. They are just remarkably better with no “Pomp and Circumstance”.