Graduation seems smaller in the UK because for many students, graduation day is exam results day. You go to school, pick your results up, and then either celebrate or commiserate.
Sweden is much closer to the former than the latter, with high school graduation being a very special day that is full of strange, funny, and unique traditions that make it very special.
It is something every Swede looks forward to and is an important milestone in their lives. The celebrations are so big that they can almost take over small towns. When a school is having its graduation ceremony, you will know about it.
Celebrations are so big partly because of these traditions and partly because it’s the students’ main chance to let off steam and to be happy with their achievements before they have to head off into the real world of work or go off to university. Sweden is really into its traditions and this is one people love.
One of the main ways you can tell when a graduation is happening is that all students wear special white hats with their names on them. They are quite similar to the kind of hat you would expect a ship’s captain to wear.
Girls tend to pair theirs with a simple white dress, while boys wear suits. There is a dress code, but it is quite relaxed and no one gets too worried about looking their best for the whole day.
That is a real theme of a Swedish graduation – the idea that it should be a relaxed affair where you don’t think about what’s coming down the road. You just enjoy the day and spend time with your friends and family.
After putting on your cap and your suit or dress, you begin the day by having a champagne breakfast, usually hosted by someone whose parents have a large garden. Graduation takes place in the summer and usually the sun is out, making an outdoor breakfast buffet and a glass of champagne a joyful affair. It is the perfect way to start the day.
Afterward, you head to your school and there is a ceremony. As with the rest of the day, it is usually light-hearted and fun, with teachers being very relaxed and students chatting and laughing the whole way through. It is not too formal and is something every student really enjoys – it is a special part of the day where years of hard work are rewarded.
After picking up your diploma, you head out into a big outside space at the school, which is usually filled with crowds of the graduates’ families and friends. Each graduate finds the people who are there for them.
One’s family won’t be difficult to spot since they’ll likely be holding up a picture of the graduate as a baby or a small child. Graduates are then given flower chains to wear round their necks, small trinkets, and some champagne.
This is one of the more odd parts of graduation but one that is very special, as the things you are given are usually things you keep for the rest of your life. It might be a small trophy, a medal, a ring, or a watch – something along those lines.
With flowers in hand and champagne ready to pop, students then head out on a flatbed truck, which is usually replete with banners and signs. These trucks drive around town playing loud music while the students drink, dance, laugh and enjoy themselves. People might honk their horns in support or cheer as the students drive past.
Mid-afternoon usually means returning to smaller parties with family and friends where you eat, reminisce, and listen to your parents telling stories about when you were in diapers. After having enough of family time, students regroup with a meal at a restaurant before hitting the town and toasting to their success.
Graduation in Sweden grows into a whole town event, where young people celebrate the end of an important chapter in their lives. If you get the opportunity to witness Swedish graduation festivities, it is well worth attending.