My right shoulder – covered by a vivid pink coat with a story behind it – is pressed against Ms. Grace’s shoulder, which sports a stylish-looking deep gray coat. A wall of people stands about a foot in front of me – sorry, that’s around 30 centimeters – and to my left is a stranger, not touching me, but hovering close. The smell of coffee lingers over the whole room, and occasionally there is a sweet smell, as a bouquet of flowers passes by. But mostly the air is just hot and stuffy in the school gym, where families and friends have crowded in to see Gimhae Jeil High School’s graduation.
There are no caps or gowns. That is the first difference that comes to mind when people ask me what Korean graduation ceremonies are like. And it’s much shorter. While the student principal does give a speech, as do various other personnel, nobody calls each name one by one. Because our gym is small, the first and second graders (10th and 11th grade) have a closing ceremony first. Then the third graders crowd in, and guests fill the remaining nooks and crannies. For the people standing (read: the majority of the people in the room), it’s a good thing that the ceremony is only around an hour.
The closing ceremony:
My excitement was probably at its highest when, upon arriving the school, I saw the entrance filled with various flowers and decorative bouquets, some of which had candy and confetti. I asked the woman in front if she was a parent and felt a little silly when she told me she was just with the company selling flowers.
I enthusiastically told two second graders “Congratulations!” to which they responded, “us?” When I replied, “Yes! You’re third graders now!” they weren’t so excited.
Once in the office I waited. And waited. Until a coteacher said, “I guess we should go see the closing ceremony.” If the native Chinese teacher was still there, we would have been excited and taken lots of pictures together. I miss you 이탁 샘!
Surprisingly to me, most teachers didn’t go to the graduation (because the gym is already so crowded). The ceremony is just that – a ceremony. Afterwards families gathered for pictures and presumably went out to eat and celebrate, just as my host family did for my host sister’s middle school graduation.
A belated congratulations, Gimhae Jeil graduates!
And what’s a graduation without some shabu shabu afterwards? If you haven’t tried shabu shabu yet – meat dipped into boiling broth and eaten in a rice paper wrap, which is just the first step to a three course meal – you’re not living.