San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Graduation from the sixth grade is a big event for children in Honduras. The good news is the graduates and their families get to celebrate the achievement with a graduation ceremony and a dance party afterwards. The bad news is that it marks the end of free compulsory education in public schools. To continue on parents must supply the funding for teacher salaries, books and materials. The government only provides the school building. The better news is daughter Alexa is in a parochial school and, while it costs more, she is getting a highly desired bilingual education. She carries a big load of classes in both Spanish and English. Although the heavy workload in two languages is difficult it will pay off in the end. When the time comes to seek employment applicants who are fluent in both Spanish and English are more likely to be hired first.
In addition to the course exams prospective graduates must pass an exit exam, a test of their understanding of the history and government of Honduras. Of the nearly thirty students who took the exam, only nine of them passed it the first time. Alexa was one of those nine!
The graduation ceremony was held in a new, very exclusive and elegantly furnished El Club Hondureno Arabe which translates into The Honduran Arabian Club. The club was built by wealthy Middle Eastern expatriates who own many businesses in Honduras. Some of these families have been here for generations. The site includes several buildings with ballrooms and dining facilities plus tennis courts and an immense outdoor swimming pool, reminiscent of the old Fleishhacker Pool next to California’s San Francisco Zoo which closed years ago. In addition to the stage the graduation ballroom held dinner tables each with seating for twelve, with vases of fresh white roses and other flowers, plus a dance floor.
Joining the sixth graders were the kindergarten graduates. The ceremonies started with the wee ones parading two at a time onto the stage followed by the bigger graduates, all in their caps and gowns. While they were filling the stands on stage a continuous roll computer slide show displayed the name and photo of each graduate one by one. Once all the children were seated the school principal and priest gave opening remarks. Then roll call began and the graduates received their diplomas. Actually they received blank pieces of paper rolled up in a ribbon because the diplomas were still in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, to be signed. But some students did receive real certificates of achievement in beginning computer skills from Microsoft and Alexa was one of those recipients.
After the ceremonies were completed it was dinner time. Everyone moved to the food line to be served boned chicken in white sauce, rice, vegetables, salad and for dessert a brownie and miniature cream puff shaped like a swan. It took some time to go through the line but it was just as well because Alexa was late in coming.
Since all the students were required to wear their uniforms under their gowns for the ceremony, the girls had retired to the restroom to change into their party dresses. When Alexa didn’t return soon enough mother Ruth went looking and found her struggling with a strap. They returned to the line just in time to be served but the server told Alexa to go back to her table and someone would bring dinner to her. Ruth was thinking that as a graduate Alexa would receive something special. That special something turned out to be chicken strips and French fries! Ruth asked why the dinners for the graduates were such poor fare compared to everyone else’s. A waiter said it was because the salad, veggies and possibly the chicken would not be liked by the children and the food would just be wasted. Apparently the idea of healthy food for children is a still an unheard of concept around here, not to mention the lower cost of their meals.
Dinner was followed by dancing, if you can call it that. Jumping up and down to a Latin rhythm would be a more accurate description. Alexa was one of the first persons on the dance floor with her friends. She looked very pretty as Ruth had styled her hair, her dress fit her very well and her two-inch heeled sandals gave her a little more height.
All good things must come to an end sooner or later. It was sprinkling slightly as everyone left the building, but certainly not like the deluge earlier in the week. It will be a night for Alexa to remember. She will have to have a long memory because her next graduation will be from high school in six more years.
For a sixth grade graduation this was a much bigger and better celebration than her father’s was, just eating ice cream and cake in San Francisco’s Lafayette Elementary School cafeteria! But that was well over fifty years ago. Times certainly have changed!