Imagine studying an extra year in high school just to graduate — that is what it’s like in many European countries. In America, we can graduate as long as we can pass ninth-grade math, English and science. We take certain classes and can graduate as long as we complete all of them with at least a 60 percent in the classes. In Iserlohn, Germany at Stenner Gymnasium, there is a whole year of studying for the exit exam and how you do on the exam determines what you can do with the rest of your life.
I spent a year in Iserlohn and the graduation traditions are a complete flip from back here in Juneau. The students study for a full year on four main subjects, which their abitur tests are based on. They have three written tests as well as one oral exam. These student study every day for hours on these subjects and also get breaks from school just to study. These exams are extremely difficult and their future job and dreams depend on their score. For example, to be able to get into a school to become a doctor, you have to score 1s across the board (90 percent or better). The subjects are chosen based on the student’s ideal job as well as their strengths.
In Iserlohn, we started off our graduation traditions with a week of costumes and craziness in the school. It is called motoweek. Each day has a theme with the graduating students dressing up and dancing on structures in the common area of the school. It builds spirit in the students and is a big week of fun before going straight into weeks of hard studying for their tests.
Then next activity is a class barbecue right before the gradation events on the weekend. It gathers the students together to plan for the weekend and eat and drink. That year about a quarter of the gradation class and I played a drinking game taking up the whole courtyard.
Then, before the Abi-ball and Commencement ceremony, we have what is called an abistrum. This past year, we had a Mario theme and had a hallway filled with balloons and Mario kart games. Another great tradition of abistrum is the graduates bringing in water guns and spraying the younger students. It is a farewell to the school and a final ‘we are done with everything’ celebration.
The actual graduation ceremony is different for each school, but at Stenner Gymnasium each student walked to his or her own choice of song and had photos projected on the screen. Some students were then recognized individually for their work in the school and in the community.
The last event of the abitur tradition in Iserlohn is the Abi-ball. Students and their families get dressed up and join together for a formal dinner and celebration for the students and their families. The first part of the celebration involves the students presenting awards and presents to the teachers that taught the abitur courses over the past year. Next comes the formal dancing by the graduates until finally everything breaks lose and everyone begins to dance and the band begins to play. The drinks flow free and the twirls of the dresses are a rainbow of color.
In Iserlohn there is also a beer festival the weekend after the abitur events and the graduates walk in the beer festival prepared to once again celebrate and tell the world that they completed their abitur. With whistles and water guns they parade through the streets.
The German graduation is a tradition that I treasure and have been a part of twice. I wish the American traditions were more like these and not just a long and boring graduation ceremony. I urge Alaska students to take charge and be proud of graduating. Start your own traditions for graduation that everyone can enjoy for the future.
• Conerton was born and raised in Juneau and spent a year in Germany through a Rotary exchange. She is not encouraging unlawful behavior during graduation, just more fun traditions.