Gowns, hoods and mortarboards complete with a tassel. This type of academic dress is strongly associated with graduations – especially with university students, and thanks to the influence of US movies and culture, high school students. However, since I’ve been a teacher in Mexico, I’ve become more aware that this trend of graduation ceremonies is happening at a far earlier level of academic achievement.
I gritted my teeth and smiled politely as my boss enthusiastically explained to me that each grade in the primary (elementary) school was going to have a graduation ceremony*. She grinned with glee as she told me that nursery (kindergarten/pre-school) students would be donning mini caps and gowns. In the UK, or at least when I was growing up many moons ago, this wasn’t something that happened. At the end of the school year we just ate some food and had some fun in our classroom and that was it. At the end of the final year of primary school, we even got to write messages on each other’s school shirts – woo-hoo! And since, according to the Oxford dictionary, a graduation is ‘the receiving or conferring of an academic degree or diploma,’ I thought the idea of graduation ceremonies in primary school was a little … extravagant over-the-top unnecessary.
I understood that primary school graduations are a way to celebrate children’s progress and accomplishments, and that perhaps it serves as motivation for students wanting to further their academic achievement. However the cynic in me was just thinking that primary school graduations are just a nice photo opportunity for parents, that they’re just a celebration of something that is expected and that they put pressure on parents to leave work early to attend said ceremonies, etc. Even though these arguments were logically lodged in my head, I wasn’t mentally prepared for what I was about to experience during graduation day.
To be fair, it was delightful seeing the pride on the kids’ faces as they went up to collect their ‘diplomas’, and it felt reassuring to hear the words, “good job, teacher” from parents. But what really started to melt my heart of stone was the 6th Grade graduation video. As the video montage depicted scenes of them being in kindergarten up until the present day, it suddenly hit me: I won’t be teaching them again. I didn’t really realise how much these little ones had become a part of my life up until this point; it was a bittersweet moment, I felt like a proud parent.
As the video worked its magic around the room, the poignant atmosphere in the assembly hall was accentuated by the sound of sniffling. Even though I was feeling sentimental (maybe, just maybe I was a little teary-eyed), I was determined for others not to see me in this state (I just had an eyelash in my eye, I swear!). As I hugged my students to say congratulations and goodbye, I managed to successfully, I think, suppress my feelings, until I got to the final two students. I was suddenly overcome with emotion; I couldn’t control the flood of tears that was coming from my eyes. I was a complete and utter blubbering fool. I can’t remember what I said and I have no idea how I looked, but I distinctly remember the face of one of my students. It was a look of shock mixed with a high dose of amusement. The student excitedly whispered to another student in a not-so-subtle way, “The teacher is crying.” Thanks, kid.
Are primary school graduations worth it? Well, that depends. Some may still look at it with distain; they see it as a show for parents and teachers alike. If that’s how you feel about it, then just don’t attend. There were many families at the school who just decided to go on holiday instead. Others may fully embrace it and get caught up in the emotions of the day. Just don’t go overboard with the celebrations and gifts, because if you do, then you might just end up cheapening the whole experience of it once your ‘child’ actually graduates from university.
In the spirit of primary school graduations, here’s a 6th Grade leaving video I made earlier for students I had taught for three years**:
*Not all schools do this in Mexico
** I didn’t get their kindergarten pictures, so it lacks emotional impact