Friday, May 9, 2008

End of the year ceremonies

Hungarian for the day: Sok sikert a jövőben. "Good luck (lit. much success) in the future"

It's that special time of the school year. As the temperature rises and the days grow longer, flowers bloom and all semblance of law and order in classrooms across the Northern Hemisphere breaks down. Yes, we are now approximately one month away from the precious last school day of the year and students and teachers alike spend most of class looking out the window onto the beautiful May weather and urging June 13th to come faster.

Hungary is a place of great formality and many traditions. As I learned last week, this tendency towards quirky ritual manifests itself in the school-leaving process. First of all, the system for finishing school here is quite different. Seniors stop taking classes over a month before the end of the year so they can concentate on taking the all-important Érettségi exams. These are similar to the A-levels in the British system I suppose - a test that culminates 4 years of education and will be the main indicator of the students proficiency in a given subject. They must choose a number of subjects to take and for each test they receive a certain number of points. To go to a university program you need a lot of points in various topics depending on the program. It's a big deal, hence their exemption from classes while they prepare for and take the exams in May and June. Last week was the last day of classes for the 12th graders and this meant a few ceremonies had to occur. The first, and my personal favorite, is Serenade. This is just what the name sounds like, the classes go around to various teachers' houses and sing to them from the street. It's a big partying event and the students imbibe greatly to get into the musical mood. Some of the teachers got together at the school to give the students a little snack before they started spreading the jolly noise of Hungarian folk songs around the town. The students thanked us with a few songs:

One of my classes serenading my colleagues and I from the street below the school

After Serenade on Tuesday, Saturday was Ballagás, the Hungarian graduation ceremony. This is a uniqe little affair where the students walk around the entire school in a line and go into each classroom. Each class (students are grouped into the same 30 or so student classes all four years of high school here) had a classroom which they decorate and then stand in, waiting for the seniors to come by so they can give them flowers. The teachers did the same thing with the teachers' work room. The students came in, received flowers, and gave each teacher who taught them a little card with all of their pictures on it and signatures on the back. In addition, the students also receive a small gift bag with a little Hungarian scone, some wine, and a 5 forint piece (about 2 US cents) to symbolize success.

My colleagues rush around our work room decorating and waiting for the seniors to come through on their walkabout around the school.

At the end of the walk all of the students (a class of about 80 students I'd wager) gather in the gym with the teachers for a few words of goodbye.

The students leaving the gym for the big ceremony. "Wait!" you exclaim, "Those in the back don't look like 18 year olds." How very astute of you. The class that graduated 50 years ago is also invited, and they receive the same little gift bags as the graduating seniors, walk with them around the school, and elect one of their own to address the crowd at the larger ceremony.

After that is the main ceremony in the school's garden. It was, for a Hungarian, surprisingly brief clocking in at about an hour. Because the students have not yet passed their big school-leaving exams they do not receive diplomas, which is a great advantage over an American ceremony. After a few congratulatory speeches and the obligatory poetry readings (there must be some law here that no ceremony may have fewer than five of them) we were out.

A couple of my favorite colleagues, English teachers Evelin and Kati, wait for the ceremony to begin.

The senior class that I taught this year walks out of the graduation ceremony and on towards whatever they will do with their futures.