I graduated from High School twenty three years ago, so I expected some things to change but also knew the gist of how it all works – at least, a bit better than Norbert as the American and Hungarian traditions are vastly different. We haven’t lived secluded, we have friends whose kids have graduated in recent years, and my cousins’ kids have done it too. And then, last year, our oldest son graduated himself, back in Colorado. So I didn’t think I was all that unprepared as we entered the final days of Joshua’s High School career. I was wrong. This was our first experience with a graduation in an International School, one in an Expat and Missionary society, an overseas yet still ‘American’ graduation. When you move your family overseas there are certain perks yet also very real hardships that sort of come with the territory – and a pretty big one is missing out on those lifetime milestones within the family, and having the family miss out on your family’s such events. And so, one way of coping is to go big, to celebrate maybe in excess, but sort of with the thought that while you know it won’t make up for Grandma and Grandma and Uncle Joe not being there, it’ll soften the blow. I also think the round of parties and preparation and craziness may sort of keep everyone too busy to dwell too long on who’s not able to attend.
I didn’t have a party when I graduated, my family had a fancy dinner out, but it was just us and my grandparents. I know our whole class had a school-planned party, but I don’t remember any individual parties thrown by students. But most of our friends whose kids recently graduated had parties, so we knew enough to have a small one for Josiah last year. It was a small backyard BBQ, though he wanted tacos, so it wasn’t technically a BBQ, but that’s what we called it. Some friends came and went, we had maybe 30 people at the max – a bulk of that our family friends the Rileys and their seven kids. We picked up some Graduation decorations from Wal-Mart, and primary colored plates, napkins and such all just the week before. Josiah was happy, and really, the most exciting part of that party was the tornado warning and everyone hiding out in the basement….the kids ended up playing on Josiah’s Wii. Living in an apartment now, we really didn’t anticipate being able to host any sort of party, so I didn’t really even consider it.
Our biggest prayer, for a long time now – years in fact, has been for Joshua to make friends here, well, actually my prayer was just for one friend, I figured that would be enough. It was amazing to see that prayer answered this last school year – especially after Spring Break, that week and the trip most of his class took to Israel really bonded them. He came home from Israel and suddenly he had a social life – there were get-togethers and parties every weekend, sometimes Friday, Saturday and Sunday on a weekend in April. That was also when I began to hear talk of Graduation Parties, and we started to be told to ‘save the date’ for some. In talking with other moms I began to see what a big deal these parties were, it was explained to me that every student had a party – often they shared parties, and that everyone invited everyone. And by ‘everyone’ they meant all the families of the classmates, all the teachers they’d ever had who were still in Budapest, basically all the families within the High School, plus any other friends… 100’s of invites per party, and multiple parties during the weeks surrounding graduation. Joshua and his friends began to talk, and then he was invited to join in a party here in town with three other boys. It was the only boy party that was not out in Diosd, where the school and most of the other parties were held – for us, it was the most feasible. It really meant a lot that they were including Joshua – more so as I realized two of the moms had been planning this party basically all year. They had a color theme, and had been setting aside tablecloths and matching accessories as they’d come across them here, plus had picked up some things when back in the US. One mom was hand making wooden photo-collage displays for each of the dozen+ tables, as centerpieces. I had never planned such a party, and quickly wished for the input and help of my amazing sister-in-law, whose parties are legendary. For Joshua’s class of twenty four, there were four huge parties: one for nine of the girls, one for four girls, one for four boys, and the one for Joshua and 3 other boys. Plus there were a few other smaller, ‘not the whole school and everyone’ parties.
Also in those final weeks were several events at the school that we’d never heard of before. The Teacher’s Blessing happened at the end of the school day, during the Senior’s last Chapel service and was a time when a different teacher got up and talked about a particular graduation student – a blessing or benediction over them and encouragement. It really made me especially grateful our kids are able to attend such a school, and highlighted for me, again, how much the teachers really love these kids. There was also a Parent’s Blessing Night, which was basically the same thing, but with the parents doing the talking about each kid, not a teacher. That was super stressful, we had no idea what we were supposed to say…so we went toward the end and sort of winged it. Joshi knows we love him, and how awesome he is. Plus an Art and Music night when the choir sang and the art department had the year’s best work on display – we skipped this event as Joshua does not sing, only to find out later he’s a secret artist and his stuff on display was amazing. But really, there were events daily for the two weeks around his graduation, it was sort of crazy and just a shock. I’m still not sure how we managed to get to all we did plus still eat and such – not to mention we live fairly far from Diosd, the town the school is in and where mostly everything except Joshua’s party happened.
But lest this all sound negative…it really wasn’t. It was community, and caring for each other so no one felt left out. I was touched over and over how EVERY SINGLE student was mentioned by name and with so much love – at the Teacher’s Blessing and surprisingly during the actual graduation ceremony itself. Maybe that’s part of being in a small school – but this went beyond reading out names, this was encouraging these kids in personal ways because the teachers had been paying attention and really KNEW these kids. It was community because everyone involved knew the high price we’d all paid in being there, in leaving our families and previous communities behind. It surprised me, and exhausted me (especially as I was still recovering from my ovarian infection and all that), and sometimes seemed excessive – but by the end of all those parties and events, I felt much more a part of that community, even though our kids have been in the school and we’ve been part of that community for a year and half now. All that craziness that we all went through together – well, it was similar to Joshua’s trip to Israel, it bonded us. I only wish we’d gone through it earlier in the year, before so many of my new community members move away over the summer…but such is our life now…and I’m ready for our next graduation in two years – much more prepared, though, I still wish I had my sister-in-law’s party-throwing skills. And I’m so blessed to know more of our ICSB community – we’ve partied and partied and partied together, looking forward to getting to do some regular life with them too.