Reflections On A Paper Hat

By Nancy Ng

It was a day to remember. Kids were spruced up in their Sunday best. Grandma arrived with a card tucked in her purse and a head brimming with thoughts of the many commencements she had witnessed. Dad rushed in to grab a camera and check for film.

Enroute to the school memories were given voice and soon the car was filled with stories of graduations past.

As we walked down the long corridor to the graduate’s classroom I recalled the airport corridor where we first met our son. Four year younger versions of these same dressed up brothers and sisters held a banner printed in Thai and English – "Welcome Home, Bunchai". Then at long and joyful last he bounded off the plane, bowed low to his new father, hugged his new mother, grinned his famous chinless grin, took control of his sister’s wheelchair and became family.

I paused at the door to the classroom to take in the scene. Smiling parents, excited kids, cake, regulation red punch and – then I saw the hats. There on the teacher’s desk were three mortarboards – fashioned from construction paper. The three graduates stood close by, impeccably groomed. A teacher in shorts said, "We might as well begin". In turn the graduates were introduced with gratuitous remarks, "Always smiling", "We’ll miss them" and handed a xeroxed diploma while the pseudo caps were placed on their heads. I bit my tongue while Bunchai was lauded for "being a good sport", remembering the daily taunts of "Halloween" from kids on his bus. As he stood at attention I recalled graduations where privileged kids jeered rudely. I thought of Bunchai doing homework on his own night after night. I remembered the pain of his many surgeries and the courage he mustered to greet the world with a face swollen and discolored after all the struggle. I marveled that he learned to talk again with a new jaw and bristled inwardly at the memory of his being kept in from recess drooling.

All this for a paper hat? How much would it have cost in dollars and effort to buy real graduation caps appropriate for these young adolescents? How difficult would it have been to award a genuine diploma?

Afterward as Bunchai’s beautiful fellow-graduate, a young lady of thirteen, hugged her classmates goodbye a teacher remarked, "Just like a real graduation."

Yes, I thought, the graduation and the graduates are real – the ceremony was farcical, the speech disrespectful, the tone insulting. But these young people and their accomplishment are very real indeed.

  school and education : personal experiences
  personal experiences : school