The Ballagás That Wasn’t

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Today, when I was saying goodbye to some students online (since it is the last week of classes for the seniors), one of them said, “I’m a little bit sad because the ballagás would have been today.” The ballagás is a ceremony not quite like high school graduation in the U.S. It comes at the end of a whole week of serenades and farewells, and it happens twice: first at school, then in the city. (Last year I wrote about it here, here, and here.)

Because of the coronavirus restrictions and precautions, we said goodbye this year without a ballagás. We expressed our appreciation and farewells online. A colleague put together a beautiful presentation of farewells from the faculty, and classes gave presentations too. We also said goodbye in our online sessions. All those gestures are worthwhile. But it’s also important to admit that something is missing. A goodbye on the Discord server is not the same as a serenade in the hallway outside the teachers’ room, or a schoolwide gathering in the courtyard.

The seniors are heading into final examinations without a full ceremony to mark the transition. There is no way to make up for this fully. The only thing we can do is to try our best, while recognizing the limitations and losses.

Not only now. Many times in life we have to go forward without the completion, goodbye, or ceremony that we had expected and wanted. It probably happens to everyone at some time or another. It is not something to trivialize. Instead, it demands respect and honor. This is no simple challenge. It is a ritual of its own.

This week, and over a much longer time, my students have shown good attitudes, thoughtful work, and kind words. Let this be its own celebration. It does not replace a ballagás, but it lifts things up and stays in the memory.

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