The Sichuan University campus has been buzzing with activity all week.
Everywhere LF and I turned on our walks around the campus, we met with clusters of students pulling out from carrying bags their graduation cap-and-gown ensembles. Classmates posed together under trees, along walkways, in front of pagodas and statues, and on benches near the school’s flowering lotus ponds. The big event of graduation was coming and they’d worked hard to achieve it.
The traditional cap and gown of the West was just recently adopted in China. It is never used for high school or small 3-year colleges that issue certificates but mostly for those receiving a university degree.
Ten years ago, these graduation garments were fond only in cheap photography shops around universities or small colleges. Students would make appointments, wear the shop’s graduation gowns and pose in various places on the school grounds. The photographer followed them about and directed their poses. The number of gowns, however, was usually around 2 or 3 so students had to take turns wearing them.
Even today, in small 3-year institutions such as Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, graduating students wanting special pictures still have to borrow such clothes from the little photography lady across from the main gate.
But it seems in prestigious educational institutions such as Sichuan University, the graduation ceremony modeled on the West’s is now a given.
Today’s afternoon had LF and me walking to the sport’s stadium where we found our MA and PhD graduates sprinkled throughout the lawns. Taking turns, they gathered for pictures and poses for tomorrow’s big event. There are two ceremonies taking place. One from 8 – 9 a.m. and another from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. No one seemed to know about the other ceremony, only their own, so it was difficult for me to determine which ceremony was for who.
Since I have the times, it should be an interesting venture to attend at least one, which will be held on the sports field. Already, the stage is set with the graduating students standing (not sitting as there are no chairs) on the field itself. I’m sure it will be a long wait but in China, no one thinks much about comfort of anyone except the VIPs. Of course, they have very comfortable cushioned chairs lined up behind the podium.
As I stopped to take pictures, students were quick to grab me for their own photo memories. I, in turn, was able to take entire group shots with their digital cameras or cell phones without having anyone missing from the picture.
One very nice Chinese touch for the gowns is that there are no zippers to close them up but the traditional butterfly buttons. It presented an eye-catching Asian flare as compared to the boring Western style.
The students also told me their graduation attire was loaned for free by their departments. No one had to buy them or rent them, which I thought was nice. I’m not sure what would happen if you lost them, didn’t return them or wanted to buy them. I did ask several times but no one seemed to know the answer to that question.
Saturdays on campus haven’t been this lively since the earthquake brought out thousands with their tents.
Since we were in the area, LF and I strolled a bit farther and ended up near the basketball courts where a rather large crowd had gathered. Along either side of the small campus road, about 20 people had laid out a number of items on the sidewalk. As LF and I cruised down the row, I noticed a majority of these young people were selling books and other items. I had found the weekend campus flea market where students sold their used textbooks and dormitory things they no longer wanted. A battered phone, slippers, clothes and outdated magazines were just among a few things offered up on their tarps. Also present was new merchandise, such as sport’s socks, T-shirts and a pile of women’s purses, which students were selling for shop owners as a part-time job. It was an interesting array of old and new and was drawing quite a few interested buyers.
The weather today being hazy, sticky, and very humid sent LF and me home after an hour of walking about. I’d have stayed longer to cruise the flea market road but LF was ready to go home.
Tomorrow, however, I’ll stay longer for the big day. Graduation will bring out thousands of students along with great photo ops. I’m not expecting too many relatives to make a showing, though. Chinese families will be from far away and most likely won’t attend. In China, I’ve found that special ceremonies and performances are not usually attended by family but by the participants themselves and their friends. It’s not about others but about those participating, mostly meant as a memory for them, not a show-piece for proud parents.
So be sure to watch this space for reports tomorrow about a Chinese university graduation!
From Chengdu, here’s wishing you “Ping An!” (Peace)