Saturday, June 2, 2012

Graduation Bells

When the Ukrainian school year comes to a close, I've discovered, the process takes about a month. A month of Last Bells (aka Last Days), graduations ceremonies, parties, exchanging toasts and flowers, grading, recording grades, and delivering grades to homes. I've put all the photo from these events together in this entry to help summary the past few weeks. I've happy to report teachers get flowers at all of these events so my bedroom is vastly more vibrant than before and the celebrations gave me a reason to go shopping and buy up a few real Ukrainian dresses. 

The 11th form is the first class to have their Last Bell and Graduation. Schools here don't have a 12th form so after 11th form kids go to college or to work. In my village, the percentage is about fifty-fifty. At the 11th form Last Bell, they all entered down our double staircase into the three story lobby which creating quite a setting for such an event. They were speeches, awards, well wishes, and lots of tears. Of course, I found myself quietly weeping behind my lens due to the realization that so many of these amazing kids will leave our village in a few weeks and I don't know when I will see them again. Since everyone else was crying too, I rationalized that my tears were simply furthering my integration.  I never taught the 11th form so I was able to become a friend figure to them. A few of the girls promised me on my first day at school - I arrived at site right before the holiday season - that they would celebrate the holidays with me so I wouldn't have to be lonely. They kept their promise. 

The 11th form graduation was a huge evening. EVERYONE is town showed up. No joke. Our House of Culture/Music Club was overflowing with people who mostly had to stand up during the 3 hour ceremony. All three of the households I have live with attended. It was wonderful to see all of them in the same place since they aren't in the same social circles and otherwise that would never happen. At once point, I was surrounded by multiple babas (about 6) who I have either lived with or been neighbors with. They were chatting away about how my dress looked, how clean my hair was, when I will starting dating, what I ate that day, etc. It was awesome. I adore Baba attention. All the students were introduced as 'Prince' or 'Princess'. The younger students performed songs and dances and gave small speeches thanking everyone for being such an example at school. Again, awards were given out. All the parents went all stage with their children to receive praise for raising such kind and smart students. When the students walked off the stage, they were smothered with flowers, kisses, and candies from family, friends, and neighbors. The girls received more flowers than they could hold. Some students had to have both parents flanking them to keep all their goodies together. The 11th formers also gave out gifts and gratitude to their teachers and parents. They choreographed a dance which included a waltz, a jazz circle, and lifts. The Star Wars theme song played as our directors took the stage to say final words and Ricky Iglesias led the graduates out of the hall. I have never seen such. When the graduation was finally over at 11pm, the students and parents invited all the teachers to celebrate at school. We ate and toasted for about an hour before I noticed the students sneaking away. My fellow English teacher, Kati, suggested we get some fresh air. 

Little did I know, right outside, there was a massive DJ stand, all 11th formers and their siblings dancing away. The other teachers and parents joined us shortly after. There were dancing circles all over the parking lot. Fireworks blazed though the air. All I could do was stand in awe and surprise. My high school graduation was memorable but nowhere near this evening. I danced from circle to circle - with parents, with friends, with my squealing 6th form girls - until 4 am. I went home early. The core of the crowd stayed until dawn. They were still eating and cleaning until the next afternoon. Among the dancing and singing and pounding bass, I was told my parents and students I am their 'American daughter' or 'foreign sister'. One father told me, "You are a miracle to us. You will give our children a chance." It would be nice to think I deserve such praise but I don't. What I do everyday is only a little of my school and my village needs. I'm not a miracle. I'm just a crack in the ice. A crack that, I hope, will spread and cause some serious change in the future. I love these people. Being swung from papa to papa during a folk dance or twirling with my little ones or practicing grammar during slow dances was the most fun I've had in this country. 

After the 11th form celebrations ended, our school got serious about testing and exams. The 9th form finished up soon and got their exams knocked out. My Ukrainian cousin, Ira, had her 9th form graduation on Wednesday. Many of the 9th formers choose to go to a technical school rather than return to normal school in 10th form. Some 9th formers are lucky enough to start college early. So they had a graduation too! The girls looked like super models while the mothers wept during a song to their kids. After tying their future dreams via a gold ribbon to a tree in the school yard, we had another celebration meal. Lucky for me, this one didn't last all night. 

Also, the 4th form had their 'leaving elementary school' graduation. They did some crazy choreography about their wild ways - 4th form is the toughest to teach but some of the sweetest kids - sang, danced, and looked all grown up in their suits and massive ball gowns. Especially at 11 am on a Monday! 

Lastly in this entry, my school had our Last Bell ceremony. (First Bell is also a big thing I will experience in September) It takes place outside since the weather is usually nice. We weren't so lucky this year. I borrowed a few coats from people but still went inside afterwards with blue lips. No joke. My lips were blue due to such extreme chill over 2 hours in the wind. Oh well. I'm just some brazen now. My fellow English teacher, Kati, received an award for being a Dignified English Teacher in our region. She was completely surprised and not sure how to control her excitement when most our students surrounded her with hugs and roses. Kati works long hours every day, doing everything with precise and creative flair. She earned every single rose and much more. I am so proud of her! Our students danced and sang all the traditional songs including a few songs about how great summer is. Finally, the shiny, silver bell rang for 10 seconds and we all got to go home! 

Enjoy all the photos! 

11th formers entering the lobby to start their Last Bell. 

Bringing out the Ukraine and Syhnayivka flags. 

The girls starting to get a little emotional. 

The younger students saying 'Good-bye' via jazz step. 

Hugging Ina and Okcana one more time.
I met these girls just a few days before American Christmas and when they realized the important of the day, they invited to visit them with the promise, "We will be your family for that."

11th From Graduation
Misha in 10th form looking very Ukrainian and very grown up. 

Dima in 5th form (right) going to town on his French horn. 

Ina and Roman accepting bread to bless their futures. 

Everyone looking like models. 

Ina and her array of gifts. 

Alina got lotsa of kisses! 

Roman got the more affection from younger students because he is always helpful to little people. 

Okcana was breathtakingly beautiful. 

A bit of Baba love! 

Thanking their families. 

The Waltz. 

Our headmaster finishing the evening with her final advice. 

The party begins! 
4th Form Graduation 
Crazy boys showing off what they really do in class. 

Valeria was brought into the room in style. 

A Thank You Mom song. 

They look so thrilled, right? 

Most of the families. 
  9th Form Graduation 

My little cousin, Ira, getting her gifts. 

The whole class. 

My extended Ukrainian family. 

Ira, Anna, Sveta, and Natsya being their supermodel selves. 
 Last Bell 
School and Village Administration starting the ceremony. 

Igor in 8th form was honored for his Oblast Judo Championship. 

A little dance on the cold, cold ground. 

Tanya in the 5th form (up top) finishing out the school year with a high note. 

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