Sophia’s Chinese Kindergarten Graduation: Performance, not Ceremony

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Sophia graduated from her Chinese Kindergarten two weeks ago. While I’ve actually never attended a kindergarten graduation in any other context, I have witnessed or taken part in many other graduations. Hence, when I arrived at Sophia’s school at 5 pm on a bright and sweltering Thursday afternoon, I wasn’t surprised that I felt a bit wistful of our passing time in China and our children’s growing bigger, and even bittersweet that Sophia was graduating (I seemed to have temporarily forgotten that she also finished kindergarten last year in the States: see Why Chinese Kindergarten?). As I talked with a fellow parent whose only child was graduating, after having attended Brown Kindergarten for three years, I even felt a bit verklempt (though the mother herself didn’t seem particularly emotional).

The graduation lasted for almost two and a half hours. During this time any emotion I had or thought I would have was completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the performance. I say performance, because that is what the graduation felt like to me. Granted, I didn’t get what was said in most of the speeches or introductions (occasionally, someone translated a bit for me when I wasn’t running around after Isabel, who kept trying to rush the stage area), but there was definitely not a ceremonial component.

Sophia was in a total of ten dances and a few of the kids participated in a couple more than that. Not only was there a reprise of all the dances the class did for Children’s Day (see the Children’s Day post), but she crammed during the last couple of weeks with the rest of the graduating children to learn another five routines. Aside from the numerous dance routines (including a new one by the teachers), at one point there was a staged competitive group math problem contest. Another number had the kids reading sentences in Chinese pin-yin. Towards the end of the “show,” four kids rang triangles each time one of them made a statement about how many hours they had spent working on particular subjects.

Sophia and the girls in her class performed in one of the final dances in which they encircled some of the teachers and school administrators. At one point during the song they bowed to each other and the song ended with a kind of group hug. It was well-staged and executed, but, again, it felt performed and not even a tear came to my eye. After the final dance number, the diplomas were quickly distributed (not in a ceremonial manner with each child’s name being called out, though) and we all snapped photos of the group holding their new certificates.

My one kind of secret hope for the day was that I’d get to see Sophia in a graduation cap and gown. Since we’d paid for another outfit, I had a vague sense that it may be a gown. While it turned out to be a plaid outfit (see photos), I did get one glimpse of Sophia in graduation gear: the following day each family received a coffee table-ready mounted photo of their child in a graduation cap and gown next to a class photo. The individual picture, like the graduation event itself, seems to be a requisite component we now possess, but that somehow comes up feeling a bit hollow to me (though it is a cute photo!).

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While I had my sense of Sophia’s graduation, she definitely had her own. It was clear that she’d spent so much time preparing to perform the dances that she spontaneously practiced parts of the dances and moves around the house and talked a lot about it. During the performance itself she wore one of her very serious faces and it was hard to penetrate what she was feeling. However, the next day, the final day, when I picked Sophia and Dylan up from school, Sophia burst into tears and was weeping by the time we got home. She spent the next hour in her room staring at the class photo and crying.

Regarding Dylan, we were a little worried about how he’d react to attending the last month of school (until July 31st) without Sophia (see previous post: Life in a Chinese Kindergarten). To our surprise, he hasn’t complained at all and actually seems really happy when going to school. A recent excerpt (June 28th) from Dylan’s Contact Book says: “Hi Dylan’s Family: Dylan is very great, he likes Chinese, he is very glad to speak Chinese to the teachers. He can sing some Chinese songs…”  Now that he’s got a good buddy (Joshua) and is understanding and speaking more Chinese, he’s enjoying himself. Even if he’ll likely lose a lot of his Chinese after we return home next month, it’s good to know, for both him and us, that he’s made a life for himself at school in Beijing.

-Pam

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