In the USA students assemble in long dark robes with mortarboard hats on their heads. They are dressed in nice clothes under their robes. Select academic high achievers give speeches about the future. Often a special guest speaker like a community leader will also regale the students with tales of what lies ahead.
American students walk single file on stage to be handed their diploma. Occasionally a few of the more adventurous students will do something silly during the procession, but in general, the graduation ceremony is a serious affair. While some parents laugh at the students who dare to be silly, most “tsk tsk” because the time for exuberance is after the ceremony. After the ceremony, students move their tassel from the right to the left and then, and only then, they throw their mortarboard hats in the air with “whooo hooos” “whoop whoops” and “yee haws!”
In addition to their finery, every Swedish graduate wears a white hat called a studentmössa. Typically, the studentmössa is a white cap with a black or dark blue band, and a black peak. It looks like a sailor's cap to me. I asked many a Swede why the sailor cap. No one was quite sure. Inside the cap is a lining which varies according to school colors or it may resemble the Swedish flag. Many graduates use the inside of the cap like American students use a yearbook - it is a place for classmates to sign their names and leave farewell messages to one another.
The history of the studentmössa depends on what source you cite and the sources and variations on its origins are many. Most agree, however, that in Sweden, the studentmössa was first worn in the mid 1800’s at Uppsala University at a student meeting.
The graduates run through the crowd and onto a stage where dance music is pumping. The graduates then dance, sing, blow horns, shake noise makers, jump, set off flares and generally have fun. From the evidence on the grounds around the school it seems that a good number of the graduates have fueled their dancing booties with Red Bull and alcohol.
During the day I ran into my son who will be graduating next year. I said,"wow, this is so different than America." Ever one after a good time, he replied with a gleam in his eyes and a smile, "I know!" For a long time I have felt guilty that he has missed out on so many of the American high school traditions. I think he is ok with embracing this new tradition though. I'll take it - let's hear it for small victories.