Saturday night, I went to the graduation ceremony at my school. This was not a new experience for me, but because two bloggers recently commented about the whole Taiwanese graduation experience on their blogs, I paid more attention to the culture differences myself.
Charlotte did a great job describing exactly what a typical high school graduation is like here in Taiwan. There are a few differences between high school and college graduations, but on the whole they are quite similar.
Taiwanese graduations tend to be quite informal, and there is no focus on the individual achievement of the students. Ours even included a rock concert at the end (although about 75% of the graduates had left by that point). At least at our school (but it seems like at others too) students take pictures the entire ceremony (such as the one above) and wander around at will. No other teachers were present except the "mentor teachers" (or class adviser). (I showed up because the students had asked me to--not because I was required to be there.)
At one point, after some dancing and bar tending on stage, the top student of each department was called on stage to receive in honor of all students in their department a diploma. All the graduates stood and were pronounced graduated. The dean of each department then went through the crowds and moved the graduates tassels from the left to the right. This however was the first time I had seen this happen. Then some awards were given to top students in each class.
Diplomas will be passed out to those who can receive them later--ie have actually passed all their classes and only took senior courses this semester. If they have to attend summer school (or even one more year) or are are still taking a junior class (which isn't completed until the first week of July) they can attend the graduation ceremony but will not get their diploma. The receiving of your diploma is a very informal thing done with no pomp and circumstance at all. (One or my former students told me that at his current school, they actually "graduated" before taking finals.)
Char makes two points I whole-heartedly agree with, first, she points out that unlike our western focus on the individual, here in Taiwan the "students were graduating as a class, as a grade, as a school."
It is another example of the "Big Me" (society) vs. the "Little Me" (the individual). In Taiwanese culture the Big Me always outshines the Little Me. In some ways I like that they were together as a class--that they were able to graduate with friends. I remember in high school, college, and grad school graduating next to perfect strangers since my friends were not next to me alphabetically.
Char also points out that by only allowing the top students to be recognized on stage, "it doesn't do a lot to encourage the majority of the
average or even mediocre students. They should be given the chance to
feel proud of their achievement, even if they weren't number one in
their class." I agree.
I would add to this that the focus is not at all what any of these students have done. When I told my students "congratulations" in English or Chinese they
were kinda dumbfound and would tell me "congratulations to YOU." The short speeches made during the ceremony mostly wish the students
good health in the future--one VP even reminded the students to
exercise so they could live longer. Nothing is said about "you worked so hard and we are proud
Instead it is more like a goodbye or going away party. The ceremony starts off by talking about what a sad day it is and how hard it is to leave and say goodbye to friends. It ends with groups of students hugging and crying tears that can't be stopped--and this in a culture where displays of affection and emotion are very rare. It is further not about their accomplishments because some of them won't even be graduating for another month, summer, or even school year.
Some other things of difference to note:
- "The graduation song" in Taiwan is actually the one we sing on New Year's, "Auld Lang Syne." And it is played at the end, as in "And now we will play our graduation song."
- The red roses and ribbons they are wearing say "graduating student." They all wear these--just like at weddings here the father of the bride wears one that says "father of the bride."
- Something Sandy
has pointed out is the lack of family and friends who attend graduation
ceremonies in Taiwan. She is right, and this just goes to further
support the idea that this is not about celebrating a great
achievement, but is rather a goodbye party for the graduates.
- There are no graduation invitations to send or mail out.
- There are no individual graduation parties or dinners--it is all about the class and classmates and saying goodbye.
- Graduates are given flowers. That might be the only sign of
individual "congrats" given. I don't really think they are given any
other kind of graduation gift from family or friends.
- This year, the entire time of diploma and award giving music--which sounded like it was from a movie soundtrack--played, which created an air of anticipation and suspense. Later songs about "new worlds" and "good friends" from Disney movies were played, which helped encourage the emotional break-down.
- This year they students didn't march in or out. Many left after they "stood to graduate" and their cap's tassel was moved over.
- Since we were outside this year and it was at night, we also had fireworks to go off near the end.
- There is only one graduation ceremony a year even for college students. Graduating students finish the spring semester an entire month early. And then graduate 2 or 3 weeks before the school holds finals for all the other students.