March 16, 2011. Today I saw my first Japanese Shogakko graduation ceremony, or そつぎょう(sotsugyo), in Japanese. I had heard that Japan really values ceremonies, but hearing about it and seeing it first hand are two totally different things.
It was incredibly cool to look into the crowd and see some of the mom’s dressed in traditional hakama. Dad’s in suits, grandmothers in dresses, video cameras out in full support of their children, children who have an entire future ahead of them.
The ceremony began with everyone standing in unison, bowing. After being seated, parents, other students, and teachers looked on in awe as the graduating 6th graders ceremonially walked in pace by pace to the gentle crescendo of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3. The students came out dressed not in their elementary school uniforms but in the more formal uniforms of their new middle schools. The vast majority of the kids had on the same uniforms meaning the the majority of the kids from my elementary school would be funneled into the same junior high. There were some students, however, who had on different uniforms, meaning that they would be going to other schools, a few to other towns.
Yesterday I talked about how all the students and teachers pitched in to help decorate the gym for the graduation ceremony. At the start of the ceremony, there was a sound system malfunction that threw a kink into a perfect graduation blueprint. Luckily, one teacher is a piano whiz and at the spur of the moment was asked to play the piano accompaniment for the Japanese national anthem. After the everyone sang the national anthem. The sound system was working again, and everything went pretty smoothly from there.
The ceremony itself was, hands down, the most formal elementary school ceremony that I’ve ever seen. Each student was called one by one and each had to do three bows: the first bow to the students and parents, the second to the faculty, and the last to the principal and vice principal as the received their leather-encased, elementary school diplomas. Did any of you guys get a formal leather case at your elementary school graduation?
In addition to the ceremony being one of the most forma I’ve ever seen, it was also the most touching.
I am really glad that I learned the ninja “Sticky Tears” Technique. It’s a special technique than and an ancient ninja master once taught me. With this technique, you 91% of your weeping happens inside of your body, that ways only 9% shows up in your eyes, thus you end up with tears that well up (i.e.-sticky tears) instead ones that fall from your eyes.
I hate to say it, but I had to employ that technique for the first time in a long time today. During the initial speeches, everyone was just fine, it was your typical ceremony. But when the first through fifth graders sang a sayonara song to the departing 6th graders, I saw a few moms break out their tissues and handkerchiefs. The final selection by the sixth graders was a real tear-jerker. I’d say about twelve of the forty students were weeping openly during their last song at the school. It was like a tear contagion that spread all over the gym. Teachers were wiping their eyes. Even the principal and vice principal couldn’t hold back. I was okay for a while, but for some mystical reason, my eyes started to well up. I had to look up or look away to keep my tears from falling.
There were these three little first grade boys and one little boy saw the sixth graders all crying and he stared crying, too. He had two twin brothers sitting next to him (one on his left and one on his right). They were patting him on the shoulders to console him, it was cutest thing (ahem, in a manly kind of way).
I don’t know about you guys, but I didn’t cry at my elementary school graduation. There really wasn’t any need to. I can’t say I was emotionally vested in the ceremony. I take that back, I was emotionally vested, but the mood was more celebratory than anything. I really liked my teachers and made some great elementary school friend. The ceremony was quite simple and our graduating class was much larger than 40 students. With an elementary school that’s a lot smaller, you might imagine how much closer you are with your students, how easy it is to get attached to the kids and their personalities.
Today, for once I didn’t think about my financial struggles, about how little I make…because today…it didn’t matter. Today, I was just proud of my kids, seeing them almost grow up in a day, breaking from that elementary school cocoon and into their teenage years.
A big Sotsugyou Omedetou (そつぎょう(卒業おめでとう)) to all of my sixth graders!