Thursday, March 06, 2014

Graduation Ceremony : Moving on to a new phase of life

March in Japan, is special for many reasons. It is the month when the cold winter is about to end and Spring sets in bringing with it warm weather. It is also that time of the year again when the academic year is about to come to an end. For most students, it may be just the period of transition from one grade to another. But for those students who are about to graduate from Kindergarten, Elementary School, Middle School, High School and University, it is a very special phase of life. It is the time when they leave behind a part of their student life and embark on yet another phase of life. 

While Graduation or Commencement ceremonies are common across the world, the way the Japanese people treat it and prepare for it is especially impressive. And this holds true even for a Kindergarten graduation ! We got to experience it first hand in 2013, when our daughter graduated from Kindergarten.  

'Sotsuenshiki', as the kindergarten graduation ceremony is known in Japanese, is the very first graduation ceremony in the life of a person. As such the entire family and the teachers prepare for it in such fashion, that often the children themselves seem curious as what the fuss is all about. While the children seem excited about 'growing up' and becoming the 'cool First grader' (Kakkoii Ichinensei, in Japanese), they don't seem to be too excited about the graduation ceremony and as such it is the responsibility of their parents and teachers to prepare them for this great event ! The teachers speak about the ceremony a few weeks before the big day to mentally prepare the kids for it. The mother's speak about it and plan what the family will wear to the ceremony. The teachers and sometimes the PTA at school which usually comprises the mothers' get together and plan how to make the ceremony special. In my daughter's kindergarten, the mothers' including me, met a couple of times to plan a party to follow the graduation ceremony at school. After the plans were made, contributions were collected and work was distributed. And last but not the least, a day or two before the ceremony, children and teachers enact and rehearse their part for the ceremony. 

Finally after weeks of preparation, the Big Day of the graduation arrives. Usually the ceremony is held at the kindergarten. 
The names of the graduating students is displayed on a board at the entrance. The kindergarten hall is decked up and at the appointed time families arrive at the venue. Some teachers wear a kimono, while some prefer dressing in western formal attire. Some kindergartens have a uniform or dress code for the children, while others leave it to the family's discretion as long as it is a formal dress. 

Our daughter's kindergarten was associated with a Buddhist temple and as such most of their events always began with a prayer.
This was followed by a speech by the Head Priest, who also happens to be the head of the school.

 After this the children and teachers sang the school anthem and songs in Japanese and English.
Our daughter's kindergarten had two classes - a Japanese kindergarten class and  an international kindergarten class. Both the classes were graduating on this day, making it a long event. After this the "Shojo" - the Certificate of Graduation was handed out to each student on the podium. 
The child then walked down the stage, to the centre of the hall where a parent was waiting to receive the Shojo. After this the child returned to his/her seat with the rest of the children and the parent returned to the viewers seating area. This was followed by another speech by the Principal, emphasising that the students should always remember the good times with friends and teachers at the kindergarten and also never forget the good things they had learned in their three years at the kindergarten. This was followed by the kids singing a thank you song to the school teachers. They also sang a famous Japanese graduation song.  
And with this the ceremony came to an end. And finally some of the children realised that they would be going to different schools and not get to meet their friends every day. And then the crying began, only to be joined by the emotional teachers and parents. 

Usually the kindergarten graduation ceremony is followed up with a Graduation cum Farewell party. In our case, the party was arranged at a popular Hotel's banquet hall and all of us along with the teachers and principal went to the party. At this party, teachers and the principal were honored with gifts and memorial photo books that the mothers' had prepared. 

And this was followed by singing more songs and lunch. The party came to an end with the teachers and children hugging each other and bidding tearful farewell. 

On the day of the ceremony , some parents' appear more emotional than the graduating kids themselves! Most mothers' seem to be on the verge of tears. And why not, with their children graduating from the kindergarten, the mothers' would perhaps not meet so often as well ! Most of the kids would continue to live in the same city, the children would attend an elementary school close to their locality and as such most kids would not go to the same school. 

Personally for my family, this was an unique experience. We got to experience yet another event in the life of a Japanese family ! 

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