High School Graduation


Yesterday the san-nensei (3rd year) students at my main high school graduated.  In the United States, or at least in my graduation experience, attending the graduation ceremony was optional if you were an underclassmen.  The ceremony was also optional for some teachers at the high school where I worked in Oregon for the past two years.

At my high school in Japan, attending Sunday afternoon’s graduation ceremony was mandatory for every staff member and student.  It was such a big deal that every teacher had to put in a full office day on Saturday so that every detail could be planned to perfection.  Although graduation did not begin until two o-clock, we also had to arrive to work by 8:00 am on Sunday morning for similar reasons. To compensate, all staff and students were given two days off on Monday and Tuesday.

In Japan it is very traditional for male teachers to wear a white shirt and a white tie on graduation. Female teachers dress formally and are encouraged to incorporate the color white somewhere in the outfit.

The centerpiece of the formal and traditional graduation ceremony was the singing of the school song.  Students had been preparing this since at least August, when they came back from their summer vacation.  It was not just a matter of learning the words and singing in unison — our choir director did a fantastic job of actually teaching them how to sing including when to sing louder and quieter as well as how long they should sustain notes.  Reading that last sentence again, that may not sound too impressive but it is if you consider that I’m referring to one person trying to teach 421 teenagers how to sing at the same time.  They nailed it.

I absolutely love our school song.  It’s beautiful, both in terms of melody and lyrics.  The words offer poetic reflections on Noheji’s beautiful natural surroundings before addressing some of the more harsh aspects of nature that can make life difficult in Aomori, especially during the winter months.  This nicely sets up the third and fourth verses that discuss unity among peers, a reverence for tradition and those who have come before us, and respect for cultures outside of Japan that can also help students grow in their understanding of the world.  All the while there is a fantastic melody with a hint of sadness just below the surface.  For all these reasons, it is a perfect graduation song and it often pops into my head when I think of people persevering through difficult circumstances.

Getting back to the ceremony, the students were also required to sit silent and motionless, rise in unison, bow in unison, and stand and sit as quickly and quietly as possible.  This too took practice, and again, they did an excellent job.

There were plenty of tears as well.  Perhaps the most moving part of the program was a speech delivered by the leader of the graduating class.  About halfway through he began fighting back tears and tried his best to continue.  Finally he couldn’t fight them back any more and just let it out.  He had to adlib the rest of the speech before returning to his seat.  For the rest of the program you could hear sniffles coming from every corner of the room in between speeches and songs.

Afterwards the students tracked down their favorite teachers for one last chat and photograph together.  During the evening the teachers went out to dinner with the parents of the graduating students.  Julie and I were both in attendance for the festivities.  It was wonderful to hang out with my colleagues in a more relaxed setting and get to know some of the parents.

Fine dining and relaxed conversation at Makado Hotel.



2 Responses to “High School Graduation”

  1. Hanna Says:

    Wow! I think this just shows how special school is to these students and how much they respect it and their teachers. I kinda wish my graduation had been like that. I gave a speech but never felt that kind of emotion (I may have only cried because I didn’t WANT to give that silly speech :o))
    p.s. You guys clean up nice!

  2. Jamie Says:

    My last year in Noheji was a special anniversary year for the school. Shamefully I can no longer remember which anniversary it was.. 80 perhaps? Anyway, as part of the celebrations they minted a special CD of school-related music and gave them to everyone. This includes the Noheji school song, and a number of other tunes they always play at graduation. Anyway, if you would like the MP3s just shoot me an email.

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