Sunday, March 1, 2009

It's Graduation Day once again

Me with the English Club girls on Graduation Day

March 1 is Graduation Day in Japan. This morning's commencement ceremony was the second I've seen here now, and it was basically the same as last year — very solemn and subdued with lots of speeches and bowing and students looking melancholy. The kids who graduated today were juniors when I arrived in Japan, and since I rarely teach juniors, I didn't have many opportunities to teach most of these kids. A few, however, were seniors in the Advanced English class I taught this year, and the two girls in the picture above were members of the English Club I advise. I'll miss them. The girl on the right is going to major in English in Osaka.

I wish I could say I understood some of what was said at the graduation, but the truth is I couldn't. My vocabulary and listening comprehension still isn't nearly good enough to follow formal speeches spoken at a natural pace. I can pick out words here and there that I know, but I don't know enough yet to tie it all together and understand what's being said.

During the principal's speech, I was, however, able to recognize the beginning of a quote that he repeated from William Smith Clark, an American much loved in Hokkaido. Clark was a Massachusetts professor who lived in Sapporo (where we saw the Snow Festival) for a short time in 1876. While he was there, he helped establish Hokkaido University and, before returning to the U.S., impressed some students by urging them, "Boys, be ambitious!" The slogan caught fire around Hokkaido and remains famous still today. I saw the quote on several snow sculptures at the Snow Festival, which is how I learned about it.

To the graduates the principal recited the full quote: "Boys, be ambitious. Be ambitious not for money or for selfish aggrandizement, not for that evanescent thing which men call fame. Be ambitious for that attainment of all that a man ought to be."

Sounds like good advice for new grads.

Sitting through all the speeches without a clue otherwise, I'd hoped to hear everyone sing the Japanese version of "Auld Lang Syne" to break up the monotony, but no such luck. Of course we're all used to hearing "Auld Lang Syne" on New Year's Eve, but in Japan the song is played at graduation ceremonies instead. (Department stores play the song at closing time, too, to tell customers it's time to get out.) My supervisor tells me that about three-quarters of schools play the song at graduation, but my school happens to do a different song instead.

Anyway, the tune is the same but the lyrics are different in Japanese, and instead of "Auld Lang Syne," it's called "Hotaru no Hikari," which means "Light of Fireflies." The words translate roughly to, "We studied hard using the glow of fireflies in summer and by the light reflected through the window by the snow in winter. Now the days have passed and it is a time to say good bye."

Maybe I can convince them to play the song at next year's graduation — my last. Though, I'm pretty sure it would make me cry. Next year the students graduating will be the ones who came to the school shortly before I arrived, so I will have gone through their high school careers along with them.

Speaking of next year's graduation being my last, I guess I ought to mention that Joe and I just renewed our contracts to stay and teach a third year, so we'll remain here until August 2010. It was a pretty easy decision for us. The main reason is that we need more time to study Japanese, but also... I just didn't feel ready to leave yet. Japan is a fascinating place and I'm thoroughly enjoying exploring the country and the culture — not to mention the opportunities we have here to visit other countries in east and southeast Asia. Even after a year and a half it still feels like a great adventure. Though, I wouldn't mind some hot wings here...BW3's better watch out when we come home in April!


Paulus Maximus said...

I've always thought Auld Lang Syne should be sung at more occasions!

Diane said...

I miss Ohio food (Skyline chili comes to mind), and I'm only 10 hours away!