My favorite school tradition in Hungary is the serenade. This is where graduating seniors sing to their teachers (and, on one occasion, vice versa). In the “old days” (up to about a decade ago, from what I hear), the students used to go to the teachers’ houses and sing outside. The teachers would then invite them in and offer them a beverage (tea, lemonade, soda, sometimes beer or pálinka).* That practice was abandoned, but the school serenades and end-of-year banquet have taken their place. First of all, students serenade individual teachers just before their last class with them. This is happening in the photo above (I was the serenaded teacher). Sometimes the serenades are more formal and practiced, sometimes more spontaneous.

Then, in the midst of the individual serendades, there is also a big serenade one evening (we held it on Tuesday). There, all the seniors sing, class by class, for all the teachers, and the teachers (holding candles) sing a few songs in return.

At the end of the serenade week (that is, today), we hold the graduation ceremony. This year, the schoolwide and citywide ceremonies are on the same day, one after another. The schoolwide ceremony is much like a graduation in the U.S., except that parents typically aren’t present, and before the ceremony begins, the seniors and their homeroom teachers walk hand in hand through the school, from classroom to classroom, singing (and the classrooms are decorated with flowers). The citywide ceremony is a grand procession through the streets, with songs and flowers, and a final release of balloons. I will be in the procession for the first time, since I am the “pótosztályfőnök” (approximately: substitute homeroom teacher) for one of the classes. In past years, I was on the sidelines along with large crowds of parents, teachers, and students.

The seniors don’t have classes after this week; their exams begin. The underclassmen continue with their classes through mid-June, and exams continue until the end of June. When the seniors finish their last exam, another ceremony takes place, followed by a banquet (an informal gathering of students and teachers, hosted by the students, at a local restaurant). Our school year officially ends on July 3.

I have to end here, since the festivities will shortly begin!

*Alcohol is never provided at school events involving students. However, at the end-of-year banquet (for graduated seniors and their teachers), it is common for students and teachers to have a drink together; this symbolizes the students’ transition to adulthood and a new stage of education. From what I hear, alcohol was sometimes also part of the home serenades as well.

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  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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