On the first week of November, I was at my son’s school for closing day, christened by the school as End of Year Graduation Ceremony. He just turned five the other day so you bet he is in Pre-Primary 1.
The event started at 9am, and by 9.30 the school was forced to do an emergency restocking of seats and setup additional tents because half the guests had missed sitting slots. I could not understand how a school with a record of the total number of students and parents (including names and contact details) could fail such simple budgeting, but I let that pass.
A host of activities were lined up for us, from fashion shows to career-themed plays to poetry and general items to showcase the creativity that our offspring carry.
It was a full-blown event, the type the so called middle class would pay tidy sums to sit at an amphitheatre and watch. For someone who grew up in an era where closing day was just you, your class teacher and the report form, the extend of what I was witnessing came as a surprise.
During our days we moved from one class to the next without pompous ceremonies, let alone parents attending closing ceremonies.
A typical closing day in third term meant spending the morning running up and down the school compound, running to assembly when the bell sounded then getting beaten by those you had annoyed throughout the year on the way home.
In your hand was the report form in which a simple note from the head teacher said everything: Congratulations Hillary, you have been promoted to Class 2. You only knew the extended family and villagers were interested in your performance if the note indicated that you needed to repeat a class the following year.
It is only when a university successfully conferred a degree on you a huge crowd gathered in support, with everyone from Vihiga, the chief included, requesting to jump aboard the Mbukinya bringing people to Nairobi.
One, because it was an opportunity to marvel at how the green city in the sun has progressed since Kibaki wrestled power from Moi and, two, to take photos with you next to that blue University of Nairobi signpost that shows our son has made it.
Otherwise no one wants to attend a ceremony where the only photogenic spot Mutsulyu Primary School boasts is the dilapidated gate every villager contributed money for a decade earlier.
Back to my son’s school, the hour everyone was waiting for came; GRADUATION. Boys and girls shorter than a meter high walked majestically onto the podium, donned in matching purple graduation gowns accentuated by black leather shoes, purple strands dangling onto their angelic faces from black graduation caps.
They were lined up in razor sharp queues, leaving exact spaces between each one of them, like an orchestra ready to perform to a royal audience.
One by one their names were called out through a well-tuned public address system. The only time I saw loud speakers at my primary school was the day then Member of Parliament Musalia Mudavadi visited to donate desks.
A good number of those children received thunderous applauses followed by ululations from groups of people seated together, the same way parliamentarians in our August House unanimously agree with a loud “aaaaeeee” to legislation that will mess our economy.
A few pupils, mine included, had to contend with just one or two parents standing up to clap. It was like a cartel ran these congratulatory moments man, with only those who knew people being applauded the loudest, some even breaking into song and dance that temporarily halted the process.
I was there for my son, alone, and you see, God blessed me with a voice so hoarse it struggles to find identity between tenor and bass. So you can imagine how I sounded when I stood to cheer for my boy who was standing between two female classmates smiling sheepishly. He must have noticed daddy was struggling and joined in cheering for himself.
As the event came to a close, the dean of studies announced that the school photographer was waiting in the studio room for parents who wished to have photo sessions with the graduates for memory.
It is the point at which I got answers to the under booked seats and different noise levels during applause; some pupils had been flanked by parents, brothers, sisters, house managers, uncles, aunties, friends, neighbours and grandparents.
From the e-mail I had received earlier, the seating arrangements catered for a maximum of three guests per student; two parents and a brother or sister. Every photo they posed for resembled a mob justice, with lips from all angles struggling to plant kisses on the cheeks of the young graduate when the camera shutter clicked.
Whether primary school graduations instil a sense of pride to foster better performance in children or is all showbiz remains a controversial topic. What I know is that I ululated for my son alone, and I’ll do the same next year.
Maybe I should pull up in a hired Ongata Rongai matatu with a crowd hanging on the roof and windows to celebrate my boy for yet another year of learning letters, numbers, colours and sounds.