Monday, July 08, 2024

Graduating STX grammar school in Denmark

I left school in Scotland in 1985. If truth be told, I didn't particularly want to leave school at that point as, at 17, I felt too young to go off to uni, but being a February baby in Scotland before age deferrals existed meant I had been sent to school at four and had therefore completed all 13 years of education on offer. This is why both of my kids who had the option of deferral (ie who were born after Jan 1 and before Mar 1) were deferred. I felt I spent my whole childhood catching up socially, and I didn't want that for them.

When I left school, I sat my three CSYS exams (Advanced Highers these days) and on the day of the last one, German, I believe, I was told I needed to 'sign out'. Signing out consisted of going to the school office and asking for a form where I was to write my name and the names of my French, German, and Maths teachers. I then visited each of their classes in turn where they signed on the dotted line to say I had completed their course and the corresponding exam. 

My best friend back then was studying CSYS History, English, and Higher German, so we had no classes together and that meant she left school on a different day and we didn't even see each other. In fact, as the only pupil in the school sitting CSYS German, my signing out was quite a depressing and solitary anti-climax to thirteen years in the school system.

I handed my form in to the office and was told I was no longer a pupil and was therefore no longer allowed on school grounds. I remember slowly walking down the school driveway to the exit for the very last time. It felt like a sad and solitary end to that era.

There was no graduation, no prom, no party, nothing.

So, when my two older kids left school in Scotland 30/33 years later, I was pleased to see they now got not only a graduation ceremony in the April before the exams, where they were presented with a certificate, and the teachers and pupils gave uplifting talks that made them feel warm and fuzzy but also a prom at the end of the June term so they could all meet up dressed in all their finery in a fancy hotel in town and touch base a last time after the exams were completed. It felt like they were being celebrated and encouraged to remain in touch rather than simply tossed out into the rain, alone. I secretly wished things had been like that back in my day.

Then we moved to Denmark, which meant that my three youngest would be completing their schooling here rather than there and I hoped things would be as celebratory for them as they had been for their older siblings. I needn't have worried!

My oldest Dane just finished school, and omg, do these people know how to celebrate! I'm actually beginning to think the two oldest were hard done by, and my experience was bordering on abuse! The order and magnitude is different, but here is what his Danish school leaving consists of...

At the beginning of May, a week before exams began, they held their equivalent of prom - 'galla' as it is called. Every kid arranged to be driven to school in a fancy car (or, as it turned out at his school on horseback, on a vintage tractor or in a horse-drawn carriage!) They turned up in their evening gowns, suits or in the case of Léon... well, you can probably guess how he dressed.

That night started at 6pm. They had a fancy three-course meal, and the staff gave speeches. One of the students had been chosen a few weeks earlier to give a talk on behalf of the kids. Three guesses who? Shy, he's not. Despite me asking on several occasions whether he wanted me or Thomas to vet his speech for appropriateness, he kept it under wraps and his reminiscing about their three years together was apparently a great hit with the 150 or so kids, though I am not sure what the staff or headmaster made of it. Especially the point in the speech when he thanked everyone's favourite and most diligent co-student 'Chat-GPT' hahahaha.

Things then became serious for a couple of months. In May, they sat written exams in all their 'A' subjects, and then in June, they sat oral exams in their 'A' subjects and defended their SRPs. The SRP is a thirty-page dissertation written in Danish on two subjects and submitted in the spring of their last year. Each student chooses their own topic and which two of their subjects are to be the main focus and those two teachers plus the ministry examiner then mark it for content. Having not seen their mark, the kids are then taken to an oral to defend the dissertation. 

Léon chose Samfundsfag (Politics) and English, analysing Scottish Independence political speeches and ads for both the Yes and the No sides back in the Scottish Independence referendum from the perspective of populist content. 

A fortnight before the end of June, I heard there was to be a graduation ceremony two days after the final exam, so figured Danish graduation was following the pattern of Scotland. Little did I know that the galla and the graduation were merely the warm-up acts for the main events!

Days before Léon's last exam, a mate asked if he'd been into town to buy his 'white clothes', to which Léon replied 'what white clothes?'. That's when they sat the poor foreign kid down and talked him through his next few weeks. 

Firstly, at his final exam, he was meant to wear his white shirt for the first time. His parents were to take the afternoon off work(!) and turn up with his student hat, Danish flags, and a picnic to greet him as he left his last oral. At oral exams in Denmark you are given your mark on the day. After your 25 minute oral the class teacher and the exam board external discuss your mark then call you back in and tell you it. It's not for the faint-hearted, I can tell you, having sat exams here too! 

And orals aren't like back home. For starters they aren't a language thing, you get orals in everything from PE to Physics, from Maths to Psychology, from History to Ancient Culture, and of course also in languages. Every kid does at least Danish and two other foreign languages to one of the two highest levels. Léon's 'foreign' languages are English and Spanish, others have English and German or English and French, and before you say he's at a bit of an advantage over his classmates having English as a foreign language, remember, unlike them, he's not only doing Danish at advanced Higher level as it is compulsory, but he's also doing his History, Politics, Spanish, and his dissertation in Danish, which more than balances that out, poor bugger.

So, after the oral you come out of school on the red carpet which has been put down for the graduates, where your parents shower you in confetti, hand you bouquets of red roses and place your hat on your head after you tell them your mark. Possible marks are -3, 0, 2, 4, 7, 10 or 12. If you get -3, or 0, you've failed. If you get 2-12 you've passed. 7, 10 and 12 correspond to A (with 12 being like 90-100%, 10 being 80-90%, and 7 being 70-80%) in Scotland, 4 is B, 2 is C. No one had told us about the confetti or the roses, so we stood out as the weirdo foreigners when we only had his hat and flags, though some of his middle-school friends who hadn't gone to grammar school turned up with fireworks, so that kind of distracted people from our faux pas, especially when the headmaster came running out to tell them exams were still going on, so could they maybe cool it just a little😂.

The last exam is completely random, so Léon was more than pleased to draw English out of the hat, so came out to announce he'd got 12! 

The disadvantage to that would unfold later... 

Having had his hat placed on his head, it is now meant to stay there for the whole summer! Everyone knows what the hat means. Different types of institutions have different colours. Dark red means grammar school, but I've also seen light blue, dark blue, purple etc. If you have this on, it means you just passed your final school exams, so the streets are full of kids in these.

We had our family picnic in the school grounds with Amaia, who had been allowed out of school early, Anna who was already on study leave, and the kids' friend from Scotland, Emma. Again, looking around I could see so much Danish culture. Despite being a mere picnic, families had brought along crystal champagne flutes complete with fancy red and white ribbons attached to the stems for the occasion. The most intricate Danish smørrebrød were assembled, and stunning cakes pulled from boxes as champagne corks popped. Tablecloths were unfurled, and glass vases of tiny flowers placed on tables. Everyone's grandparents were in tow too, elegantly clad. Danes are such sticklers for detail when it comes to table dressing and formal occasions. Our tablecloth-less, rose-free bench with plastic cups and baguette sandwiches looked like a pigeon amongst a party of peacocks.

That day Léon and his mates went into town to see the Denmark match, and went on to a club till 5am. Technically, it's a great ruse for getting into a club too. No one IDs a kid in a hat as the youngest you can be is 18, but you're more likely to be 19 or even 20. So, if you're 17 and fancy a clubbing holiday, buy one of these hats and go to Denmark the last week of June!

The following day the other half of his class had their final oral, so again it was out clubbing till sunrise and Thursday was even worse as there was a music festival on in Odense... Funen's answer to Glastonbury. I was in serious doubt that Léon would make the 'white clothes photoshoot' at 8am the next day, and the graduation, but he surprised me by being out and showered by 7am despite coming home after 1am. 

And it seems almost everyone was sober enough to remember the memo about turning up in white! 

We then went along to the graduation ceremony which seemed very un-British to me, or at least very un-Newton Mearnsy. Back home my kids had gone to Mearns Castle High, a state school that prided itself on its consistent place in the top ten in the country. It was a lovely school, caring, and friendly, but also concerned about protecting its image. Speeches at graduation were grandiose, about achievement and the perfect futures the kids would all be able to obtain thanks to their outstanding results etc etc. Not so here, graduation speeches by the head of each of the five main study lines were anecdotal and fun, describing the kids as having arrived in the school as wild beasts who'd needed taming, joking about kids who were less than diligent, whole classes with reputations for doing anything to avoid assignment deadlines. It all seemed more laid-back, and more relatable, given they also praised them for their ultimate success, and the futures awaiting them. There was no covering up the real or less desirable side of things, which was interesting for me as a non-Dane. Those speeches would just never have happened in the school they would have attended had we lived in that parallel universe.

After the ceremony, they disappeared to celebrate again! But given Saturday was to be the biggest day yet, studentervogn day, Léon wasn't too late home. The studentervogn is the thing the majority of the kids had been most looking forward to from the first day three years earlier when they started grammar school. In fact, some kids probably only do the three-year course for this reason, and I am not exaggerating! A studentervogn is a large truck, decked out with banners prepared by the kids, a dance area, drinks etc. Here's a photo of Léon's.

The disadvantage touched upon above is this: If you get 12 in your last exam, you don't get to join the studentervogn till the second stop, having to run behind it all the way, mind you getting the lowest mark in the class is worse as that person apparently has to run in front of it instead, trying not to be run over!

A route is planned stopping at everyone in their main class's house where food, alcohol, and other refreshments are served. Each stop takes around 25 minutes, other than the stops for breakfast, lunch, and dinner which take longer. Between stops the truck is a mobile dance room and the kids party, drink, dance, and sing. With 27 kids in Léon's class and distances of up to 15km between stops, the truck tour was scheduled to take 15.5 hours so had to set out at 7am! They even dropped by their English teacher's house on the way to give a farewell cuddle to Mummy Sussi as they call her. At each person's stop the classmates lined up to welcome the student to their own stop with a beer bong ceremony. I'll include a video of the arrival of the studentervogn, and the beer ceremony. We got it from 5:35 - 6:05. 

Apparently another tradition is to moon at passing cars! Danes love nudity! Given it was Léon's stop he got to moon at the car passing our house, except the car didn't then pass, it stopped and the driver and passengers came up the driveway to congratulate the students as it turned out to be Léon's coworkers driving to the local restaurant for their shift. He had to laugh that his workmates were now in possession of a photo of his bare arse hanging out the back of a truck!

Thomas had set out sandwiches and sangria and they were more than pleased with how exotic (ie un-Danish) that was! We did water the sangria down with a bit of ribena just so they would survive the 15 hours, but no one seemed to notice! We were spontaneously joined by the neighbours too which was lovely!

That night they were determined to earn the right to wear their hats backwards - apparently you do that by staying awake for 24 hours, they were also determined to win the right to draw the symbol of a wave inside their hats by skinny dipping in the sea wearing only their hats, not the most sensible combo, but I did notice his phone pinged at the coast around 2am and he returned home the next day looking like this, complete with wave!

That was 30/6. And since then Léon has rarely been seen! Every night he's at a studentergilde (a graduation party) from 6pm to 6am, always staying at someone else's house. He drops by occasionally for a shower, or to pick up clothes, showing off new symbols in his hat. An ear of corn means you have run the length of a cornfield naked, apart of course for the hat! And so on... He's having the time of his life. 

Graduation isn't a prom, and a ceremony here, it's a prom, a ceremony, a hat, a picnic, a truck and a party a night for over a month. They sure know how to graduate in style. And now I know why most Danes take a gap year before uni... it's to recover from the graduation ceremony and sober up long enough to actually decide what course to take at uni!

I don't think I've missed any details, but I will update if he fills me in on anything else!

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