Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Graduation Festivities

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 12)
It was an incredible honor and joy to teach my daughter’s class this past year.  Not just because she was in it, though that was a pretty cool perk.  I said numerous times that I would take any or all of these kids home with me and adopt them if I needed to.
Yep.  They’re that cool.
While it is sort of silly, they make a big deal about graduation from grade 6 here.  I think it is part tradition, and part in keeping with the stages in the national education system.  After grades 6, 8, and 10, students in the PNG system must test to see if they qualify to continue on to the next level.  Only a small percentage make the cut, and consequently, many PNGns have, at best, a grade 6 education.
However, I think the biggest reason for the end-of-year-6 hoopla is that in just a few short weeks, these guys experience the big transition from the Primary Campus (Preschool – Grade 6) to the Secondary Campus (grades 7-12).
The class consisted of 6 Papua New Guineans, 16 Americans, an Aussie, a New Zealander, and a Finn.  They worked hard all year, and we wanted to make the last few days and graduation very special for them.
Several weeks in advance, the students began hitting me up to let them skip their last day of school.  Being the rule-follower that I am, I convinced them to give me time to garner some information, and set off to plan a “skip day” that was still a real “class” day, but also would become a special memory.
They were told that the day was a normal school day, and they would be reported to the office as absent if they didn’t show up to my house by 8:30AM.
At half-past-eight, everyone was accounted for. 
Badminton, basketball, four-square, Wii, and board games kept them busy at first.  After a while, we broke out the snacks and they all gorged themselves on cookies, popcorn, chips, gummy creatures, fresh pineapple, and the vegetables that I insisted on putting out.  (“OK, [insert name here], if you’re going to have seconds, you have to eat some veggies!”)
After a while, they were separated into teams and sent off on a photo scavenger hunt.  Over the next hour, the four teams would hunt down and capture images such as several teammates peeking out from behind banana trees, a word spelled with rope, all team members underneath a picnic table, the smallest team member standing with someone who is over six feet tall, a team member with a pink flower in his or her hair, a soda can pyramid with at least 21 cans, two team members literally stopping to smell the roses, all team members sitting in one chair, and the favorite, all team members standing in a shower or bathtub.
They loved it!  And the pictures were hilarious, so I got to love it too.  :)
We scored the results, awarded prizes, and then had lunch.  I found one group of kids with a stack of Pringles on the back veranda playing poker. 
With chips.
Since Pringles are a rare commodity, I’d say the stakes were pretty high.  :)
Eventually, we all headed to the auditorium for graduation rehearsal.  They did such a great job that we ended up releasing them about 30 minutes early from their last primary “school” day. 
Graduation was very nice.  Sweet stories from former teachers, character awards, student memories, and presentation of grad certificates.  No bouncing beach balls or releasing caged mice like at my high school graduation, but that’s another story.
After the ceremony, the kids were loaded up in a couple of vehicles and paraded around the center, hootin’ and hollerin’ the whole way.  When they arrived at the reception venue, snacks and a couple hundred cupcakes greeted them, as well as their proud family members and friends.  There was a chance for formal family photos, and then the kids quickly changed out of their Sunday best.
Families were invited to stay at the auditorium for phase 3: Australian bush dancing.  Bush dancing is somewhat similar to square dancing, but, frankly, way more fun.  There was much laughter – and sweating – as the parents, graduates, and siblings got into the, er, “swing” of things.  :)
After thirty or so minutes of bush dancing, most of the family members left.  Being a teacher, I was privileged to stay, and a few dads also stuck around to help supervise a campus-wide game of Capture the Flag.  I would get to be the jailer.
Of course, as if on schedule, at the exact moment of this transition, the clouds broke and the bottom fell out.  I have no idea how many inches of rain fell that night, but it was quite a downpour.
Did a little precipitation slow these guys down?  No, it did not! They played two full games.
And, in fact, the father who was in charge of the bonfire that would culminate the evening’s festivities was able to successfully get a roaring fire going, despite the rain.  As the kids stood in the thick mud and huddled, shivering and dripping around the fire, we decided to forego any attempt at marshmallow roasting.  Instead of being let down, many of the kids ran over to the nearest big hill and held an impromptu after-dark mud-sliding session. 
I don’t know if the kids will have great memories for years to come, but I certainly will.  :)

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(Updated 13 April 2013)