My six year old daughter graduated today. My wife told me a couple weeks ago to keep my schedule open for it. I thought at the time, ‘Oh, well that’s nice—a cute little make-believe commencement exercise.’ Yeah, right! Boy oh boy! Next month I'll have been in this country five years and I still have a lot to learn!
This morning I had a nice polo shirt set out and immediately I got jumped on by the wife, “You can’t wear that! You have to get dressed up!” She handed me my nicest white Barong Tagalog.
“What, for kindergarten?” I asked with some astonishment. Approaching thin ice I ventured out onto it anyway saying, “The only real graduation I can remember attending was for high school. What do they do over here--have a ceremony for every year?”
She’s got her US passport but my wife still gets pretty defensive when I wax into one of my “superior American attitude” orations—and well she should—so she laid into me with a big huff, “It’s not EVERY year. It’s only at the end of pre-school going into first grade, and again after the 6th grade, and finally at the end of high school. And if you don’t like it, don’t go!”
“Cr-r-r-a-a-ack! Splash!” That was the sound of the ice breaking under my feet and me falling through it. Feeling like a cad and knowing what’s good for me, I moon-walked out of that no-win verbal exchange, I clammed up, and put on my barong.
“Morning Daddy!” My soon to be first grader knocked and came into the room wearing lip-stick and a white leotard under what looked to me to be a long white first communion dress. “Come on Daddy, do you want to see my graduation dress?” she asked excitedly, pulling on my hand.
“Aren’t you wearing it already?” I couldn’t imagine that she’d be wearing anything nicer than what she already had on. I went with her into her room and hanging on the door knob was a little white graduation cap and gown.
‘Oh my God, they really do it up here for pre-schoolers,’ I thought shaking my head, this time keeping my comments to myself. Well, my little one was really excited, so I decided it was time to get with the program too. I began to realize that this was not going to be a cute little 1-hour-long pretend ceremony. Filipinos love pageantry and I knew I was probably about to suffer through an interminable example of some.
Three hours is not that long—right? Well, unless you’re a Baptist, most Americans can hardly stand to sit through more than an hour of church. That’s especially true for mini-Americans, those in the pre-school and kindergarten ranks of us. Thing is, today, I was pleasantly surprised by the display of excellent behavior I saw from my daughter’s five and six-year-old classmates. The entire preparatory class assembled just after and they remained in good order until the torture—I mean commencement—ended a few minutes before 11. I have to say, if all my money bought was that—teaching pre-schoolers patience and a bit of observable self-discipline—then I think it was money well-spent.
The commencement exercise was an up-scaled version of one you might see at any American high school. Yes, I said up-scaled because it had three times the stuff. Let’s see, four kids gave speeches, memorized and robotically spoken, but pretty impressive considering how long the speeches were. It’s funny—three or four adults also gave speeches, only they read theirs.I think the kids would have been allowed to read their speeches too, but I don’t think they can read yet. Don’t you love the irony? There were also at least a half-dozen production numbers performed by the kids. And altogether, they devoted a full hour to the delivery of certificates and awards. My little graduate did so “with honors,” but I soon realized that every child left that day with some kind of award—whether for most-improved, best-helper, or blackest-hair—every kid left with something to buck up their little developing self-esteems. No complaints, I guess that’s a good thing. (Okay, okay, that’s not how I really feel!)
We didn’t bring a camera since we were given pre-written instructions that no photography, except by the official photographer, would be allowed during the ceremony. I guess my wife’s 10 years in the US ruined her, because she really seemed surprised to see every other parent in there with their digi- and video cams just a snapping and a shooting away.
“I thought they said no photography by the parents,” she complained loudly to me.
I answered wryly, “Are you forgetting where you live? They make lots of rules in this country, but when none of them are enforced and everyone knows they won’t be enforced then do whatever the heck you want...You know what they say about Rome, right? So, do as the Romans!”
Just goes to show that you can teach 6-year-olds here to behave and even to deliver complex speeches and sing elaborate songs, but evidently you can’t get their parents to follow even the simplest of rules. Oops, there I go again.
An Air Force brat born in Japan in the late 50's. Attended more than a dozen schools before graduating from high school. Immediately joined the US Marines, after 5 years transferred to the US Air Force, retired in 2002 after 27 years of service. Now lives in the Philippines.