When I look back on my life, I recall but a few graduation ceremonies. The first was when I completed junior high at age 15. I was excited to move on to senior high; I had survived the perils of the awkward years, when kids try to master the transformations their bodies undergo while their brains mature a bit (hopefully). High school was the beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel: Three more years until the conclusion of mandatory school, when I could make my own life choices. So a brief ceremony marking the occasion seemed fitting.
The big graduation for most Americans is after high school, and it was no different for me. The principal, a teacher or two, the valedictorian, and some long-forgotten guest gave speeches. I remember none of it, but I do recall partying the entire night after and being extremely tired the next day.
My final graduation ceremony was a lengthy ordeal marking the completion of my university studies. The beastly thing lasted several hours and felt more like a punishment than a celebration. At least that’s how I choose to think of it, as I was not there. I was getting married in France – a far more enjoyable ceremony.
When my daughter finally finished kindergarten in Beijing, I was surprised to learn of plans for a graduation. What exactly had our children mastered to warrant a ceremony? Sharing, nap time, basic handwriting, and simple math? It did not seem to me that these accomplishments needed to be honored with a two-hour event (longer than my high school graduation), complete with multiple song and dance routines, performances by parents and grandparents, and a somewhat awkward dance by nine scantily clad belly-dancing teachers. I began to worry about just how long her elementary school graduation would last, let alone high school.
To ascertain whether most kindergartens in Beijing held graduations and whether this was the norm in other countries, I conducted a randomized study of Beijing’s local and expatriate population. After exhaustive research involving perhaps dozens of people, I learned that kindergartens in the US do in fact hold graduation ceremonies, as do most international and local schools in Beijing. Foreigners from other countries were generally as perplexed about this phenomenon as I was.
Don’t get me wrong, I was delighted to see the kids do song and dance routines. I particularly enjoyed seeing my little girl dressed in a pseudo go-go dancer version of a Chinese military outfit (complete with red knee-high boots) dishing out martial arts-inspired dance moves while shouting out the chorus.
But right around the time I had to listen to a 6-year-old give the “valedictorian speech” about how they would boldly march into the future, I knew the event had gone too far, particularly when she received her “diploma” and turned around to reveal exposed underwear – as if she was wearing a hospital gown. She was not alone; half the 6-year-olds neglected to close the back of their graduation gowns properly. Kids!
illustration by Sunzheng
This article originally appeared on p48 of the beijingkids September 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com