Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Second Malawian Graduation

Thursday was the Form 4 Graduation Ceremony at the Secondary School where I teach. It was a fun day of speeches, dancing, food and of course, “snaps” (aka taking photographs). Bonus—this time I didn’t have to make a speech!

The preparations had been going on all week. Classes were mostly suspended, as the undergrads were sweeping, mopping, arranging chairs and cooking in preparation for the event. The Form 4s were mostly busy rehearsing and studying for their upcoming exams. The teachers were busy supervising the students and preparing the programs, awards and food. I was assigned to the Cleaning and Decorating Committee. Which basically consisted of supervising the cleaning done by the students, although I did get to decorate the chalkboard in the staff room with my usual kindergarten artistic flair.

The hall where the ceremony was held was decorated by some Form 3 students with a side decorating business. They did a really nice job. Be sure to check out the decorations in the photos below.

The event was supposed to start at 9:30 a.m., but actually started two hours later. Not too bad for Malawi. Around 11:30 a.m. the Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher, school staff, Guest of Honour,
School Management Committee, Parent Teacher Association members, Chiefs, parents and student guests were seated in the hall. Then the music started up and the Form 4 students made their entrance, with a choreographed dance they had been practicing all week. When they reached the entrance way, the Guest of Honour cut the ribbon in the archway and the event officially began.

The empty seats were for the Form 4 students, and were soon filled.

We started off with a prayer, as it is a Catholic School. Then the Master of Ceremonies took us through the ceremony. The order was basically speech, speech, performance, speech, speech, performance. There was an interesting theme to some of the speeches that I will discuss in a separate blog post, as I have lots of thoughts about it. Suffice to say there was lots of thanks and encouragement for the
graduating class and the incoming students.

The performances were prepared by the students. There were dances, a rap, a drama, an acapella gospel song, and two comedy acts. Here is a photo of one of the performances. 

These Form 4 students were dancing to an old Michael Jackson song. And let me tell you, they could really dance. Michael Jackson probably couldn't have done better.

During each performance there was the expected cheers and clapping, but also people came up and tossed money at the performers. And a few candies too. The dances got the most Kwacha.

Then it was time for the “testimonials”, which is when the Head Teacher and the Guest of Honour present the certificates to the students.

The Head Teacher is on the left, and the Guest of Honour in the middle.

After the testimonials, some students were given awards. Some of the categories were Most Punctual, Most Well-Dressed and Most Outstanding Student. Awards consisted of dress shirts for the boys and chitenjes for the girls. Plus they got a cute little canvas bag along with them.

Then we had a closing prayer and the ceremony was over. Which meant it was time for the food!

The teachers and students had been preparing the meal all week. I remember on Monday during a staff meeting I saw a group of students walking by holding squawking chickens by their feet. Then 20 minutes later the students walked back, and the chickens were still. When the meeting was over, the students were plucking and washing the headless
chickens. In Malawi, everyone knows where their meat comes from.

Around 100 people partook of the meal, which included chicken, cabbage and rice with your choice of Coca-Cola and Fanta. It was pretty good, and not just because I hadn’t eaten anything in seven hours. No silverware though—have you ever tried to eat rice with you hands? It's difficult. I should really start carrying a spoon with me again. It comes in handy.

After lunch, it was time for snaps. A few of the students asked me to pose with them, which was sweet.

Around half-three (3:30 pm to us Americans) people started making their way back to the hall for the
disco. Because you can’t have a big event in Malawi without a disco, after
all. I wanted to go, but I also knew that it gets dark around 5:30 pm now,
and it was really cold so I wanted to bathe before it got much later. So I ducked out and headed home. Just in time too—I barely had my dishes washed and my buckets emptied before the sun set.

So that was graduation. But it’s not over for the Form 4 students yet. They begin their national exams on the 17th of June. Their score on the Malawi School Certificate Examination (MSCE) affects whether they can go to a university or technical school, and whether they can get most jobs, so it is really important for their future..

Here’s to the Class of 2015!

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