卒業式: Comparing Japan and the USA’s High School Graduation Ceremonies (Part 1)

To my Japanese friends: 卒業おめでとう (sotsugyou omedetou, happy graduation)! Today is March 1, graduation day for most secondary education institutions in Japan. The fiscal and academic year begins April 1. The academic year consists of three terms: Spring(April-July), Fall (September-December), and Winter (January-March). Also, Japanese 3rd year students (equivalent to seniors in the US) have their final tests and classes by the end of January. This is to give them time for university entrance exams and other preparations.

In the United States, graduation ceremonies take place in May. My school’s academic year had six 6-week semesters. We had a week or two of no classes near the end of April. Senior Week consisted of five days of fun activities paid for by our senior dues, culminating in Prom. We had a lock-in, which did not last all night, in a church gym. I played Twister. As a high school student, I remember the joy of knowing my grades put me in the top 10 percent and the annoyance of finding a dimwit one spot ahead of me. I am not sure if this is rare, but the popular (and ofttimes mean) kids also had great grades and enrolled in AP (Advanced Placement) courses. Anyway, as members of the top 10 percent, we wore white. For a fashion conscious graduate, the shoes make the outfit. I wore a pair of white, peek-toed Guess heels.

In Japan, students do not wear gowns or mortarboards. They wear the same uniform they had been wearing since their first year, a total of three years. 

Yes, three. I realize some high schools in the U.S. may have only three grades. In jr. high school, my 8th grade class graduated at the same time as the 9th graders. My school had 4 grades. Our school rented a venue for the commencement ceremony, which was normally used for professional basketball games. We sat in chairs on the “court,” which was covered, facing the stage which must have been on the halftime line. Our friends and families sat in the stands enveloping us.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-12-11-08-pm

In Japan, my school’s graduations are held in the gym, as I suspect most are. The students sit in a wide column, facing the stage. The parents and families sit in a section behind the students. To the left, 10-15 former middle school principals and teachers sit at a long table facing the students. On the right, two rows of 10 chairs are reserved for teachers and homeroom teachers. More than half remained empty as the teachers have responsibilities elsewhere. It is an awkward spot for self-conscious people and would be less so if we faced the stage. I dislike my profile, and having parents gaze at it was uncomfortable in the beginning. Looking at the stage to my right during the speeches of the principal and PTA president (both females during my time) also caused neck discomfort. After three years, I tried to remain in the back, but was thwarted both years.

Next week, I will either continue with Part 2 or translate Part 1 into Japanese. Stay tuned!

 

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