By Songyi Zhang
I’d heard about graduation proms before I came to America. I was shocked at first to see beautiful and expensive gowns for teenagers in Seventeen magazine. Why would parents allow their kids to spend extravagantly just for an evening ball?
I can’t find any similar tradition for Chinese graduates. A class trip is probably the most popular celebration. The Chinese new graduates usually organize a long-distance trip without their parents. It’s a way to show independence. Also, it’s a good opportunity to hang out with classmates before everyone goes off in different career directions.
In the States, every May and June is a big celebration time for new graduates. Stores and restaurants use the event as a gimmick to attract customers. This May was my turn to graduate from the MFA program at Chatham University. I was turned off when the campus bookstore listed the price of a diploma frame at over one hundred US dollars. I haven’t started earning money, I’d have spent a fortune for my graduation. Is it really worth it?
To lower my graduation expenses, I didn’t attend the commencement. Together with the graduation fee, the cost of a cap and gown will add up to nearly three hundred US dollars. It’s only a matter of formality. I guess either I’m such a low-key person or I’m really cheap.
I don’t remember that I had any extravaganza for my undergraduate graduation. Nor did any of my classmates. Disappointingly, my dad was even absent. Mom was the only family watching me in cap and gown.
Twenty years ago, it’d be unbelievable for a Chinese to understand why American parents throw parties for their children in celebration of their graduation. There’s so much drinking involved; as are physical contacts among boys and girls. In a relatively conservative society, dating is not encouraged among Chinese teenagers.
Twenty years later, perhaps the Chinese upstarts will look at the Western way of graduation celebration as a trend. They also want their children to have fun, to enjoy the kind of life that their generation missed in youth. They spend tons of money to send their children abroad to travel or study in the summer. They buy expensive presents for their children. If their children are accepted by the prestigious universities, middle-class parents will become genies in a bottle to fulfill their children’s costly wishes.
Graduation is a big deal in one’s life. But I find the way Americans celebrate the moment a bit overboard. I don’t appreciate the lavish celebrations. What shocked me at first when I looked at the prom dresses in the teen magazines was the different attitudes between the Americans and the Chinese. The former are spenders while the latter are savers, although today more wealthy Chinese join the league of generous spenders.