March 1 was graduation day at all the high schools across Hiroshima prefecture. So all the teachers attended the graduation Saturday morning before returning to our desks to (pretend to) work for the rest of the afternoon. To compensate us for working Saturday, we got today (Monday) off.
In Japan, the school year begins in April and ends in mid-March. Summer vacation actually falls in the middle of the school year, running for six weeks between mid-July and the end of August. The old school year and the new school year are separated by a two-week spring vacation at the end of March.
The seniors have actually been finished with classes for a month. Their classes were canceled so they could study for university entrance exams, but a lot of them came to school anyway to spend the days studying in the library. Now that's some dedication I know I wouldn't see in America.
The graduation ceremony at my school took place in the unheated gymnasium. 320 kids in navy blue school uniforms, parents, teachers, and the school band and choir. There were a few speeches. Everyone sang the national anthem. Each kid stood and bowed when his name was called, and then one designated student from each homeroom class went up on stage to receive all the diplomas for his class. Throughout the ceremony, the kids periodically shot to their feet, bowed and simultaneously dropped back into their seats with military precision. It kind of reminded me of Sunday mass in a strange sort of way. After a couple more songs, it was over.
At the end, the teachers lined up by the door and began clapping for the new graduates as they exited. Like souls lining up on Judgement Day, the seniors solemnly filed out wearing long faces. Some swiped tears from their eyes; a few stifled small smiles. But most just looked like their favorite pet just died, trodding along with a distant look in their eyes and a burdened expression on their face.
It was, undoubtedly, a very strange mood to witness compared to the typical American commencement ceremony, when no one bothers containing their joy about never again having to write another B.S. term paper or stay up until 3 a.m. temporarily memorizing worthless facts. I still am not sure if the kids honestly were bummed about leaving behind their high school days, or if they were just following social protocol by not appearing to be so ecstatic to get the hell out of there.
All in all, the whole thing took around an hour and a half. Not bad at all for a graduation for 320 kids, I thought.
I'm excited about the new school year. It was the middle of the school year when we got to Japan, so I wasn't able to really establish my own way of doing things in the classroom. But now I'll have the chance to set up my own rules and try some new things with a fresh set of kids.