Is that it? Attending a rather uneventful college graduation

Yesterday I attended the graduation ceremony of my friend Felix. Felix became a friend of mine back in March when he started attending my English for Job Applications class as a means to bulk up his English before taking the IELTS exam (it’s an exam non-native English speakers take for admittance into universities in English speaking countries). Over the last couple of months, we’ve become friends as we both found we are both born in the year of the Rabbit and are both Pieces so it goes without saying that we have a good understanding of one another. Felix helped me with some surveys I passed out to students and spent countless hours entering data. Also, when I got into a bind two weeks ago while I was in Shanghai for the GRE exam, he helped talk to the hotel where I was staying when I wasn’t able to get a room there on account that I didn’t have a Chinese national card (and that I’m not Chinese). He helped me figure out how to get to the remote campus for my exam as well as all the necessary details I needed to have smooth sailing on that day. (NOTE TO SELF: Really. Start learning more Chinese to get yourself out of these messes!!!).
Felix (back left) and his friends.    

So as I became better friends with Felix and as his impending graduation approached, I asked if his parents would be coming from his hometown near Beijing for the graduation. “Nah, I’ll just see them when I come home the day after. It’s not really a big deal.” Not a big deal??? Now that really baffled me. Firstly, coming from the US, I’m used to graduations being milestone events and sort of rite of passages whether they’re pre-school or graduate school graduations. Secondly, the Chinese toil and work their asses off for three hard years in high school to do well on the Gao Kao, the college entrance exam which pretty much determines the rest of their life (at least in a Chinese person’s eyes). Getting a coveted spot at a university and having a chance at getting a college education means a certain amount of economic security for not only the student but his or her entire family. There is a lot riding on whether a kid attends college in China. So naturally, I would think graduating from college would be a big deal. Not so….

The new graduated pose with their “diplomas”

Felix’s graduation for his major department was at 2 in the afternoon. Apparently there was a graduation for all of the graduates at 10 am in the university’s gym. Felix’s major, Economics, held its graduation in an auditorium in the back of the school library. When I arrived late in true Stephanie fashion, I saw a bunch of students sitting in the lobby with matching t-shirts. I walked into the auditorium to find Felix sitting in his cap and gown a few rows from the back. He apologized that there wasn’t a seat for me. He suggested we take some pictures as we waited for him and his friends to march up and get their degrees. So, click away we did. Some of the rows in the front of the room started marching up to get their diploma. We took some pics with Felix and his roommate William and his friend Tina. Then just like that, Felix had to go march up to the stage. A line of 10 or so professors were sitting at a table on the stage. Ten students at a time would proceed and get their degree, each students lining up in front in front of one of the ten professors who would then hand them their degree. Then they would all stand facing the audience for a quick snapshot and that was it. Meanwhile, sort of Communist-party type of music was playing in the background. As the next group of students was getting ready to proceed up, the previous students who had already gotten their degree had already taken their cap and gown off and were heading out. After Felix got his degree (which wasn’t really his degree. It was just a fake degree that the students held up), he came back to his seat and nonchalantly said, “Well, I better take this cap and gown off. The next group will need this. So, what are you up to now?”

Swapping out caps and gowns.

We walked to the lobby to see the next graduating class waiting and presumably they would get the caps and gowns. We snapped a couple of more pictures and that was that. I asked Felix if there would be any celebrations later. He said that most students would be partying all night as it would be their last time together. Most of the graduating students had been doing just that over the last two weeks- going out into the wee hours of the morning; singing at KTV (Chinese karaoke rooms you can rent); and just soaking up as much fun with one other until the fated day they would all leave and go their separate ways. Felix mentioned that some students were planning to organize a parade around campus at 9 pm. “That’s great!”, I said and glad that there was finally going to be something eventful happening for what I consider to be a very important event. “Yes, but some teachers have found out about it and will now stop it.” Again, taking is very personally, I protested on behalf of the students to Felix and said incredulously, “But why??? It’s just a fun parade to celebrate your accomplishment and do something together before you all leave!?” “Well, you know, these things are not good to put together and organize here in China,” Felix said matter-of-factly and calmly with a look like “That’s just how it is” on his face.

Students’ hard work and toil being taken away on a dump truck.

In the end, I think my desire for a graduation with more pomp and circumstance and fanfare is purely selfish. I feel that is what is appropriate for all of the work these students have done to this point. Plus, I’m a very nostalgic person and think back fondly on my own graduations over the years as well as graduations of others that I have attended. I just want Felix and his classmates to have something special to remember, especially before they face the harsh reality of finding a job in a very competitive market and before they face the strict Chinese pressures of getting married, starting a family and supporting their entire extended family. At the end of the day, though, I think Felix and all of his friends and classmates were happy with the quick and brief ceremony as it left more time for them to spend with one another and celebrate their accomplishments together and reminisce about their last four years.

Congratulations to all graduates out there and best wishes as you embark on the next chapter in your lives!

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