One, you do not have to go to class to pass a class in Japan.
Two, you do not have to pass any tests, hand in any homework, or act at all like a responsible human being to pass a class in Japan.
Three, the only time real discipline hits you is if you don’t show up for school, once at school you do not need to go to class, do work, or be social.
Four, middle school is the highest compulsory education level. Most go on to a high school of some kind, but it is not required.
So, part of me was less than thrilled to be going to a ceremony triumphantly showing off “we did it!” Because all you need to do is show up, and some of my kids have trouble doing even that. There were third graders at graduation I have never seen at my school. Yet they got a diploma like everyone else. That is what I was thinking going in, but I soon forgot about that as the kids that I knew gave it their all got their reword. I feel it is a shame they were rewarded the same way as those kids who didn’t work at all, but I knew they deserved the diploma and I could say with a smile on my face, “You did it.”
The event was a cry fest. Second graders were crying, first graders were crying, the graduating third graders were crying, teachers were crying, parents were cryin!. Not a dry eye in the house. I tried to think back to my graduation from middle school. I couldn’t remember it, at all. I don’t know if we even had a ceremony or just the typical end of the year ceremony nothing special. But as I was watching the kids get their diplomas I thought about Summer. I haven’t thought about her in a long time. Among the third graders, I noticed an empty seat. The empty seat reminded me of her empty seat at my high school graduation. Seeing the kids looking so young and thinking of her, gave me a very sad glimpse at time. But I don’t feel like talking about this now, or in this medium.
The ceremony was very formal and respectful. The children walked in from the back of the gym with their homeroom teachers. There is a lot of bowing. Their names are called, they walk on stage, and receive their diploma. After the awards there are a few speeches, then all the third grade teachers are called up and the students bow and thank them. The homeroom teachers are presented with gifts. The teachers then bow in thanks for the students’ hard work. Then the homeroom teachers lead the kids out by homeroom. That is the last time they will step foot in Tanigawa Junior High School gymnasium. I saw some of my favorite kids go. A boy who is from the Philippines, and thus speaks fluent English and has an affinity for Eminem, will be particularly missed. After all the students leave the parents and students make two lines near the main gate. The new graduates walk in the corridor of people. People run out for hugs, cry, give flowers, cry, yell things, and cry. I shook hands and gave high fives and yelled “congratulations!” slowly and in a clear voice. Even in the freezing spitting rain it was very nice. It was also interesting to see the difference in social norms and stigmas. For example, boys were giving each other flowers for congratulations.
Because I am “very cute-o” I didn’t help clean up because I was asked to be in about a million pictures, which I would rather do than clean any day. My third grade teacher showed me once again why he is the coolest dork at school. He would get in these elaborate posses and do funny things with his hands. He is awesome! So instead of giving the classic peace sign I started giving “okay” and “thumbs up” signs because Okumora-sensei was doing it too. He rocks. The kids were happy, other than the crying. Some girls fell down they were crying so much. Even my “tough guy” boys were balling at points. I thought I had stumbled onto the set of a Greek tragedy. But by the end, everyone was happy. Pictures were being taken left and right. There was singing and general good will. Not even the freezing rain deterred the kids. All in all, it was very nice. Plus the school provided a great sushi bento for lunch so no complaints there!