My friends, I apologize for my long silence. Returning to the states has been an overwhelming venture, and I find myself lost every time I remember Ukraine and how far away I am from everything that was a part of my life’s most recent year. I hope to finish out a few stories if you are patient enough to join me.
Graduation ceremonies are not something I typically wait for with eager excitement. The elation I felt when I could finally throw my college cap in the air say, “I’m DONE!” was, of course, unparalleled. But what shenanigans we had to get through to get there.
I suppose Hungarians might feel the same way about their graduations, but the nervous energy that pulsed through the dormitory and the schoolyard on the day of the ceremony felt more akin to a theatrical performance than anything else. I had watched the cleaning ladies scour the school and listened to the third years practice their songs. Second-year Ági had practiced on my hair in order to give me a very Transcarpathian hair-do on the day of the ceremony, but I had a pounding head ache that day that I was barely keeping at bay, and the hair style required tight braids covering my head, so I had to forgo that option and twist my own hair off of my overheated neck. I did not mourn the loss Ági’s expert braiding too much because, as much as everyone oooo-ed and ahhhh-ed after the practice hair style was finished, I had always thought that this particular hair style made people look like cocker spaniels, and I was no exception.
Even without the special hair-do, I felt so excited about everything that I put on make-up for the first time in over a year, turned my observation skills up several notches, and sat very impatiently in the teachers’ room where we all fanned ourselves impatiently. The courtyard had been set up with all the benches and chairs the school had to offer. Everything had been decorated with garden flowers—petals spread in designs on the patches of grass in the courtyard, flowers and vines wound around the banisters and taped to the chalk boards, more petals lining the hallways. Each of us had dressed in our best clothes, the students in the uniforms they wore for church on Sunday.
The pastor, János, led the teachers in prayer, and half-way through, we could hear the third-years begin their singing as they processes through the building. They started in their own classroom, standing in a long line with their left hand on the shoulder in front of them. Szabina lead them at the front of the line in a position usually held by the class teacher, but the class teacher, with a broken arm and an injured foot, waited to lead until the line had moved away from stairs and out of doors.
In Transcarpathia, traffic stops for weddings, funerals, cows, and graduation processions. The line of students snaked across the road. Buses, soviet cars, and semis waited for everyone to cross to the church. The service was about an hour and incomprehensible (for me) as usual. Afterwards we all processed back to the school courtyard for the actual ceremony.
Once again, my comprehension level was not high, not of the words anyway. But the spirit of it all came through. There was in this courtyard ceremony a sense of solemnity and ritual usually lacking in similar US happenings. But it was not forced. The second-years gifted the graduating third-years with staffs and bags for their next “journey.” The third-years passed the mantle onto the younger students. The speakers were varied and the talk was long, but the students did not shift uncomfortably where they stood but listened attentively. The singing was cheesy but moving. All in all, the graduation exercises lasted over three hours, but no-one was complaining. Only the dearest loved ones had attended, and of course they couldn’t get enough of the their graduate standing smiling before us all. When the students presented flowers to all the teachers, I beamed at the English student who brought me my rose and spoke a careful “thank-you.” I felt like cheering when everything was finished, though not because the long ceremony was finally over. I reveled in the accomplishments of all the Péterfalva students smiling so happily with their diplomas in hand.
This, my friends, is pomp and circumstance in the most delightful sense of the words.