Junior High School Graduation

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The schedule for 3/8/2012: Graduation Ceremony

I know what you in America are thinking. Graduation? But it’s only March! The Japanese school year actually starts in April.

Almost all schools run a three-term school year (trimester system), and most universities and colleges have a semester system. Most schools with a trimester system have a first term from early April to late July. Commonly, the break lasts for about 6 weeks. The break originated to avoid the heat in summer, so schools in the northern regions may have a shorter summer break than the rest of schools in Japan.
A second term lasts from early September to late December with a winter break at the end of the year. The term is followed by a third term from early January to late March and a brief spring break lasting 2 weeks. The graduation ceremony occurs in March, and the enrollment ceremony in early April.

I was able to go to my first ever Japanese junior high school graduation ceremony last week. I received the invitation from the vice principal, who is also the 3rd-year student English teacher. I teach with him a lot. Is it strange that the vice principal is also a teacher? That doesn’t happen in America, I don’t think. Administrative staff tend to stay in the administration division and the teaching staff tend to stay in the teaching division.

This vice principal speaks English so well and with such native intonation. It is so impressive for someone who lives in northern Japan and probably does not speak English every day. But he has a love for the language and an incredible interest in learning. He always asks me questions about words and sentences and what sounds more “natural” to me as a native speaker. I always learn something when I talk to him.

But anyways, he invited me and I was so honored. If I had a base school (instead of my office), I would automatically get to go to that school’s graduation. But since I am not based in a school 24/7 (or should I say 7/7?), I was hoping for an invite. Of course I jumped at the chance to go and asked for permission from my bosses. They agreed that I should go.

On Thursday, March 8th, I took the bus to the junior high. I arrived around lunch time, but the 1st and 2nd-years were already in the cafeteria eating lunch. So I ate in the teacher’s room with the vice principal. It was super sunny and slushy that day, so I had worn my button-down and suit jacket with my regular work pants. There was no way I was walking around in slush with my suit slacks. They would have been ruined before the ceremony for sure.

The graduating 3rd-years began to arrive around 12:15/12:30pm, even though they weren’t due to arrive until 1pm. Their reason for coming early was “preparation” and “practice”. I decided to get ready too. I went to the bathroom to put on my suit slacks, tuck in my shirt, and put on my heels. Instant professional. Once again, I am so grateful that I was able to find a suit in America that fit my long arms and legs. YAY Ann Taylor! My suit has been useful in Japan many times over.

The other teachers were now wearing suits too, except the principal who wore a special suit with a coat that had tails. Is it customary for principals to wear suit jackets with tails? And two other teachers (one male and one female) wore hakama with kimono. I think hakama are so cool! I really want to wear hakama someday. I have worn kimono and furisode, so hakama should be next!

I went into the gymnasium where they were practicing their songs and chatted with the students for a bit. The 1st and 2nd years sat on the left (audience left) and the graduating 3rd years sat on the right.

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Then all the parents and officials filed in and took their seats. The ceremony began with a song and I believe it was a song about the town. Then there were speeches by the principal, town mayor, town education representative, PTA leader, 2nd-year student representative, and lastly, a 3rd year student representative.

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It was very strange to me to be at a graduation where no one clapped. As the principal gave out the graduation certificates to each of the students, no one clapped or said anything after each of their names were called. It was quiet (save for some background music). And then no one clapped after any of the speeches. It was so weird for me to sit and be still and silent like everyone else.

At my high school and college graduations in America, everyone cheered and clapped. A lot. My dad even yelled, “Go Stace!” when I walked across the stage. It was completely different than the graduation I experienced in Japan.

The only time I heard clapping was at the very end of the ceremony. All of the teachers went to the front and stood in a line. I was very honored to have been asked to stand up front with all of the real teachers. First, all of the boys went up to the front and formed a line in front of the teachers, each of the students facing us. They bowed a “final farewell” to us before it was the girls’ turn to bow to us. After they bowed, everyone (including the teachers) clapped as the students walked out of the gymnasium.

And then, the ceremony was over. We all went to take group photos with the professional photographer. I hope I will get to see the photos some day in the future. I did not have time after those few photos to hang around and mingle with everyone because of my bus schedule. The school is out in the middle of nowhere, so buses come every hour or half-hour.

The thing that really is interesting is the fact that these kids have absolutely no idea where they are going to high school at this point. Japanese students actually have to take a test to get into high school, so junior high school graduation is more of a bigger deal. But they do not find out the results of this test until after graduation. So they have no idea if they are going to high school or not when they walk up to the podium. Their future is in the air! I for one cannot imagine not knowing.

Graduation was on Thursday, March 8th. The high school entrance examination results were released on Friday, March 9th. I heard that of my 14 students at that particular school, 12 chose to take the public high school entrance exam. One decided to go the private high school route and one decided to go to a special school for disabled students. 10 passed the public high school exam and 2 did not. The two that did not pass decided not to re-take the exam, so I guess they just won’t go to high school. It isn’t compulsory here.

I hope to go to graduation again next year, when my now-2nd-year students graduate. It will probably be more emotional for me at that point because I will have known and taught them for a year and a half. I love those kids!

I just had my last school visit of the school year yesterday, so we shall see what the new year brings!

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