Sunday, June 12, 2011

Graduation and the Senior Ball

The differences between the Bulgarian and American education systems are stark and many. Perhaps one day I'll elaborate on some of the major differences and how they affect those of us who are teachers, but for now I'll limit myself to graduation and the senior ball.

Most of the kids I teach (high schoolers) remain in school through June 30th. The seniors, however, take their last classes on May 15th. And then in late May, there is a senior ball. There is no graduation ceremony, no valedictorian speech, or anything else remotely similar to what we have in America.

Last year, I had to pick my brother and sister-in-law up at the airport so I missed many of the festivities associated with the senior ball. This year, I experienced it all. Here's what happens.

Late in the afternoon, friends and family of the kids begin gathering at the school and wait. Eventually, designated drivers in fancy cars bring the kids (who are in no condition to be driving) to the school. More friends and family arrive with the kids, and the kids rush the school, smashing balloons and other displays, yelling, screaming, and taking swigs of booze. After several minutes of this, the kids emerge from the school triumphantly and chant repeatedly.

The kids then get back in the cars and are driven to the center of town where police have blocked the streets and it seems the entire town is waiting for them. Once there, they chant some more.

After repeated chanting, the kids hop back in the cars and are driven to their ball where there is more drinking, more chanting, and lots of dancing.

And, in case you are wondering what they are chanting, this video, taken on May 15th, explains it all. Let's just say that anyone who lives in Bulgaria for any significant amount of time (or even someone who visits in May) has no excuse for not being able to count from one to twelve in Bulgarian.


  1. This with the counting is completely new tradition,it started around 7-8 years ago. I graduated 10 years ago and there was no counting at all.
    Also probably some small towns and schools there is no graduation ceremony but in Plovdiv,Sofia,Varna and other places there is one for sure. In my school it was a great ceremony few days before the ball.

  2. Interesting. Thanks for sharing, Mira.

  3. I graduated from high-school in Bulgaria in 1997, there was no counting down, no balloon or other display smashing either. We did have a rather elaborate ceremony at school a few days before the ball, we (the high-school graduates) were responsible for a part of the content of that ceremony. It is not a part of the tradition to have a valedictorian speech or a valedictorian for that matter. Perhaps just as Mira said, no school ceremony is more of a small town thing. In Stara Zagora there have always been ceremonies. My 10 years younger brother graduated from a high-school in Sofia just a years ago, there was a school ceremony as well.

    An important aspect of the whole affair is the outfits, there is one fancy and usually pricy outfit for the graduation ceremony in school and one even fancier and way pricier outfit for the ball. Not to mention shoes and purses to match (the latter for the girls of course), color-coordinated make-up and hair-style. A girl who is about to graduate from high-school would usually have at least one test make-up and hair-style session just to make sure, she will get what she wants.

    Another aspect that is significantly different between the senior's ball in Bulgaria and North America (specifically Canada where I have lived for the last 10 years) is the venue for the ball. Forget about a dance in the gym, it is usually a fancy restaurant that has been booked months ago. The usual 'formula' is the more reputable and prestigious the school kids go to, the fancier the restaurant they go to for their ball.

    The outfits is the reason as to why seemingly the entire town is waiting to see the graduates. It gets that much more important if one's relative/friend/neighbor's kid is graduating that year.

    The video is great, the song that is playing in the background is a Bulgarian pop song that basically expresses students' gratitude to their teachers over the years.

    It is surprising to me that the kids in this school got to graduate on the 15th of May, usually it is not before the 24th of May.

  4. Thanks for another perspective, Elena.