How does a graduation become a worship service?

I didn’t want to go but i went anyway. I just wasn’t in the mood for dressing decent. I needed a new slippers and i couldn’t bother to buy new clothes( even if i had the money to). i just was not feeling like going to Spanish Town on a Sunday afternoon for no graduation service.

I wish i could find a better way to support my brother leaving high school. That was very significant. I struggled with not wanting to but knowing i had to do it for him.

I managed to find something to wear. A dress i hadn’t worn since i wore it the first time at a JFLL dinner. I didn’t have any shoes so i just went with my beat up slippers. They were comfortable anyway. I arranged a ride with my sister so i didn’t have to worry about driving.  Once she picked me up i felt half of the weight of not wanting to go disappear because i had company but essentially that feeling of wishing i could be somewhere else remained.

This was my 5th St.Jago High School Graduation. It seemed like pretty much the same. Follow the guys in the cadet uniform,park your car on the dust bowl field, walk over to the front of the school and take a seat on one of the metal blue chairs.

The opening comment was an announcement to those attending the graduation that this was a worship service and we should act accordingly! A worship service? why was i at a worship service? i was told that this was my brother’s graduation. “Mommy why is this a worship service? How can this be a worship service?” Mommy just looked at me. Simone reminded me that this was an Anglican school. I was distressed. I was uncomfortable and i felt out of place. i started to play pool on my phone.

We had to sing hymns, we had to stand, then sit, then stand, then sit, then stand again.  The guest speaker was the “VERY REVEREND” Colin Reid. He told us about silver and gold and God and being prepared for something and somethings i forget. It was bad. it was very bad because it made me think about whether we had famous commencement speeches by Jamaicans or anybody from the Caribbean , like the ones that have millions of likes on Youtube from U.S universities.

“Mommy this is unfair. Why does the school and the guest speaker take this graduation as an opportunity to read the bible to us?” She just looks at me with nothing to say. Daddy starts to tell me about why he would never go to America and some other entertaining stories.

Everybody is talking to each other. They are listening but commenting as if to want feedback from other people around. The man behind me makes a good point. The “Very Reverend” is telling us that everyday people are applying for jobs but they have all studied the same thing. He is encouraging those graduating to think carefully about what they want to do and do it. The man behind me laughs and then says” him nuh understand seh most a di pickney dem weh go da school yah dem parents nuh rich dem nuh have di money, so it nuh so easy fi dem study whatever”. I am very interested in what he is saying and it makes me pause to think about where i am and with who. I look around and i think about Campion College and Immaculate High School and some other “town” schools, and i realize that it is true ,this is a school for the children of working class parents. maybe a few middle class government workers like my mother and father, but looking around i do see more working class people.  It makes me think even more how little options working class people have in Jamaica. I wonder how many of them were Anglicans and cared to have a graduation as a worship service? i wondered about how many schools churches had built in Jamaica? and how many anybody else had built?

The influence of religion in Jamaica is immense. All rightness and wrongness comes from here. Sitting there on the blue chair in between my mother, father and sister, watching my brother graduate, i wondered what i was doing here. why i was here in Jamaica? why did i have to be here to feel so out of place? Why couldn’t i just work hard and be excellent at some jobs make my parents proud. What the hell was i really doing in this place?

There are 8 students graduating from 6th form, all of them are head students. the head boy, the head girl and 3 deputies each.  “Daddy u eva hear anything have so much deputy yet? how that work?”. Daddy barely answers me but i know he understands. I think him always understand even though him so miserable i admire him for his sense of reason and oddness. I think Daddy just different and unpredictable. Different from mommy.

The principal announces that valedictorian is one of the students who got 10 Subjects in one sitting, the present head boy is famous for getting 1o subjects too in CXC, last year.  “Daddy you know what the problem is none a them pickney yah nah lef fi come change Jamaica wid all the brightness”. Daddy barely responds.

My brother was leaving high school. I thought the guest speaker was horrible. I thought the valedictorian speech was horrible. I thought that prioritizing a worship service over a celebration of school leaving was typical of post colonial Jamaica in 2014.

My brother is so tall he looked and felt very happy. We looked at baby pictures of him during the ceremony. I think all of us wanted to cry. Just the other day he was the baby. How did this happen so quickly?

Jamaica is always on my mind. My life, my family everybody else. I am looking at people who live in Jamaica. Working class people who are proud to see their children graduate. My feet need some lotion and it doesn’t help that my slippers is so worn. I hide them under the chair in front of me. The man in front of me has on a stripe pink t-shirt, his hair is twisted and in cornrows, he has his cap in his hand. The graduates have to line up and go on stage when their names are called to collect their certificates.  As names are called you can hear the supportive screams, ipads, tablets, phones up in the air to catch a glimpse of the child, brother, son. daughter, cousin, niece, nephew, sister, brotha, uncle, aunty or friend. “Mommy how come none a dem pickney yah nuh have no African name?” she tries to call one, she recognizes as possibly African.

The final time we were asked to stand to sing the lord’s prayer, it just hit me again. The kid in front of me is playing a helicopter game on his Ipad, My mother is singing, some people are sitting, some people are talking and some people are taking this as a serious worship ceremony. When has there been an attempt to resolve the tensions in who we are separately or together? I think everybody wants to live here but we just don’t know how.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About afifa

dj. artist. creative director and co-founder of the SO((U))L HQ and DI Institute for Social Leadership. I make ritual spaces.

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