Graduations and Advancements: Stop and Go

May 20, 2022

We find ourselves in the second half of the month of May preparing for the various celebrations and ceremonies that mark the end of an academic year. For some students, this is a moment to mark advancement to a higher grade or division; for our Grade 12s, graduation is a formal ceremony that marks the formal end of their school education. As was the case over the past two years, planning for these events is made more difficult by the uncertainty surrounding the potential impact of renewed social distancing or class suspensions, should these be imposed by the government without prior notice.

Our current planning is based on the arrangements permitted at this time last year. This allowed key milestone events, such as graduations, to go ahead ‘in-person’, albeit with strict capacity constraints imposed on school venues. We are making arrangements to allow some family members to attend our traditional formal ceremonies in person, but these may be subject to change at short notice if government policy or directives change. At this point, restrictions on serving refreshments or more elaborate catering remain uncertain.

No matter the format permitted for such ceremonies under the prevailing circumstances, it is always rewarding to reflect on the nature of the ceremonies themselves. We gather the community as witnesses. We don formal robes for some events, doff our caps as a mark of recognition between scholars, and we confer certificates to recognize achievements.

In reflecting on some of the language we use to describe or label these important ‘rites of passage’ in the formative years of youth, it is instructive to look at where some of these words came from in the first place. In English, to ‘graduate’ has typically been associated with the conferral of a degree from a university. Its roots go deep into the ancient Indo-European languages, but the word appears to be based on a verb ‘ghredh’ to walk or travel. In graduation, one takes a step or advances a level. This ancient word springs up in surprising places in modern English, such as congress, digress, ingress, regress, even progress. Graduation at its heart is about moving up and on. The term used in Chinese 畢業 on the other hand, focuses on the completion or conclusion (畢) of an enterprise, business, or course of study (業). It is more about ending and stopping, rather than moving.

Both languages convey an important aspect of graduation. We should focus on both the stop and go of graduation, whether a student is concluding 15 years of kindergarten, primary and secondary education, or marking an important step forward, progressing on a journey from childhood to adulthood. We all know that the end of the school journey at the end of Grade 12 is not so much a stop as a pause before the next phase of formal or informal education. We also know that our younger students should take a moment to pause in their travels through school, to reflect on the phase of the journey just completed and to prepare for the new challenges to be met at the end of August at the start of the next academic year.

Most students taking part in our ceremonies in the coming weeks will remain enrolled ISF students. A small number, 60 in total, will stop being enrolled students and enter the ranks of the ISF alumni. Regardless of the credentials held by the student participants in our forthcoming ceremonies, at their conclusion, we will be proud of their many accomplishments and wish them well as they take their next steps.




Dr. Malcolm Pritchard

Head of School