High School Graduation and Economic Independence, Swedish edition

Today we attended a graduation party for our friends’ daughter. Graduation seems to be a  big deal here in Sweden. Here is what I know about it:

It used to be that students did not know if there were going to pass their final exams until the morning of graduation. Parents and others loved ones waited outside of the school in anticipation of seeing them emerge with the hats (depicted in picture below) that indicated that they had passed. The successful graduates were paraded through town and brought home where they were feted.

Nowadays you know ahead of time if you are graduating but, still, the graduating students head to school in the morning for a meal with the faculty. In the afternoon they leave school and their families are still waiting outside. They still parade through town (here in Växjö they were riding around on the back of flatbeds and people were cheering).

The graduation party we attended began at 3 – once the parade toward home was completed. There was a large spread of cold food and seating enough for all 60 guests. Folks were dressed formally. The graduate wore a white dress and her cap. The house was decorated with flowers and with ballons in the blue and yellow of Sweden. Guests brought gifts and cards for the graduate. After the meal the family of the graduate gave speeches and sang songs about the graduate. These were similar in tone to those you would expect at a wedding in the U.S. There was laughter and tears as the parents noted that their child was now an adult (in their eyes and in the eyes of the State who now recognized this person as independent of their parents). Then the presents were opened. At this particular event the presents consisted primarily of money, gift certificates for a travel agency and household items – towels, glasses, a television.

The event felt to me like more of an American wedding shower than a graduation party as I have experienced them stateside. I asked my friend, the mother of the graduate, if you received similar gifts for your wedding. She said that you may but often when you get married you have already been living on your own and with your partner for many years so there is no need for a lot of new housewares. That is true in this case too. The graduate is moving into an apartment with her boyfriend. She will be working at first and expects she will probably head to university in a few years. It is also worth mentioning that you finish high school at age 19 here, the drinking age is 18, and it just seems like folks in Sweden don’t have this liminal state of “young adulthood” as it exist in the US. Given that university is paid for and the welfare state supports independent adults, parents no longer need support their children (for real) and children are free to begin their adult lives without depending on their parents economically.

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