June. Summer has arrived and all across America it is time for prom, senior ball, senior ditch day and graduation. High school graduation is a milestone in a young person’s life. 30 some odd years later and I still remember mine.
In the USA students assemble in long dark robes with mortarboard hats on their heads. They are dressed in nice clothes under their robes. Select academic high achievers give speeches about the future. Often a special guest speaker such as a community leader will regale the students with tales of what lies ahead.
American students somberly walk single file on to the stage to be handed their diplomas. Occasionally, a few of the more adventurous students will do something silly during the procession, but in general, the graduation ceremony is a serious affair. While some parents laugh at the students who dare to be silly, most “tsk tsk” because the time for exuberance is after the ceremony. After the ceremony, students move their tassel from the right to the left and then, and only then, they throw their mortarboard hats in the air with “whooo hooos” “whoop whoops” and “yee haws!”
Studenten-The Swedish Graduation Ceremony
Given that this is all I know about graduations, imagine my surprise when I attended a Studenten – the Swedish high school graduation ceremony. Like the USA, Swedish students are dressed up for this important event. Girls wear white dresses and the boys dress in suits. This is where the similarities with America end. In Sweden, high school graduation is a party from beginning to end!
In addition to their finery, every Swedish graduate wears a white hat called a studentmössa. Typically, the studentmössa is a white cap with a black or dark blue band, and a black peak. It looks like a sailor’s cap to me. I asked many a Swede why the sailor cap. No one was quite sure. The variations on the history of the studentmössa are many. Most agree, however, that in Sweden, the studentmössa was first worn in the mid 1800’s at Uppsala University at a student meeting.
Inside the cap is a lining which varies according to school colors or it may resemble the Swedish flag. Students put their names on the front of the hat. In between the student’s first and last name, there is a gem. There is also a colored band between the white and black part of the hat. The color of the band and gem tells onlookers what program the student is graduating from. Gymnasium or high school in Sweden is a bit different than the USA in that students choose a course of study in high school to either prepare them for a job upon graduation or to prepare them for what they plan to study at university.
The morning of graduation, most friend gather for champagne. Yes, they start drinking first thing in the morning on graduation day.
Next, each graduate receives a leaving certificate – like a diploma in the USA. What follows, however, is a joyous running out of school – “utspringet” – with your leaving certificate in hand through a crowd of parents holding placards with the graduates’ baby photos. Some of the parents go for a darling baby photo. Others use an embarrassing photo, but every graduate has one. Each placard has the name of the graduate and with the year and date of the graduation. Most of the placards are decorated with a blue and yellow background representing the national colors of Sweden. Rumor has it that the King and Queen of Sweden participated in utspring for the prince and princesses. That is how important utspringet is.
The graduates run through the crowd and onto a stage where dance music is pumping. The graduates then dance, sing, blow horns, shake noise makers, jump, set off flares and generally have fun. From the evidence on the grounds around the school it seems that a good number of the graduates have fueled their dancing booties with Red Bull and alcohol.
After each group has gone through the run/dance/party on stage portion, they go into the crowd searching for their baby photos and hence, their families. Well wisher don them with necklaces of blue and gold (again, the national colors of Sweden) from which are hanging flowers, teddy bears, champagne bottles and other things that may represent the student’s personality and interests.
From there the graduates move to rented flat bed trucks or fancy cars and continue the dance party. The trucks are decorated and are essentially a mobile dance club which drives through town honking their horns and playing music with graduates hanging off the trucks, singing and dancing. You can literally hear them from miles away. And you hear it all day, every day, for about a couple of weeks as different school have different graduation dates. This mobile party seems completely dangerous to me, but what do I know? It happens all over Sweden every year.
After the mobile disco ends you may see graduates running through the more populated parts of town in groups singing, dancing, yelling, blowing horns and whistles and chanting through megaphones. Some members of the group carry boomboxes and they lead the group like the Pied Piper keeping the party going. I was having lunch in a main square the other day and my friend and I could not hear each other over all the noise. Also common are pranks around town – silly things like jumping in public fountains to cool off (and sober up??).
After the truck ride and run through town, the graduates return home to friends and family waiting to celebrate the student with more festivities well into the night.
During the day I ran into my son who was graduating the following year. I said,”Wow, this is so different than America.” Ever after a good time, he replied with a gleam in his eyes and a smile, “I know!” For a long time I have felt guilty that he has missed out on so many of the American high school traditions. I think he is ok with embracing this new tradition though. I’ll take it – let’s hear it for small victories.