In Denmark, graduation is all about the hat

Mirah Christiansen wearing her graduation cap. (Photo courtesy of Mirah Christiansen.)

Grenaa, DENMARK – Each year, Danish high school students, in their final six months before exams, come together to look at hats. They try on sizes, look at colors, and place an order for their very own graduation cap.

This very Scandinavian tradition is integral to student life. It is like a mortar board, but better.

Your best friends bite into your visor, and you cut various shapes into the leather rim of your hatband, a different one for each ‘challenge’ you complete.

Rather than a yearbook, your cap and a Sharpie are handed around instead. It is something that most graduates look forward to for years, and a symbol of all your hard work.

Our traditions go far beyond caps though, and it is no wonder, seeing as Danish students go through an extra year of high school.

Celebrations normally begin with a big ceremony with crying teachers and parents, and a lot of champagne. The ceremony is swiftly followed by the partying.

As a nation with a lot of open space and lax alcohol laws (you can buy your first beer at 16 in Denmark), it follows that our traditions are a little different than in other parts of Europe.

Studenterkørsel is where each class rides on a tractor, drinking and partying along, on a road trip to visit every student’s house.

These traditions, each with a long list of rules, are a huge part of Danish life. It is hard for Danes to explain what these traditions really mean to them.

The partying students with their beautiful caps are what younger students look up to. You may be feeling happy for them, but you are mainly imagining your own cap and partying.

Unsurprisingly, a global pandemic is not the best environment for celebrations like these. At Grenaa Gymnasium in mainland Denmark, their plans had to change.

Mirah Christiansen, whose exams have all been cancelled, talked about how they are keeping Danish tradition alive, at two meters apart.

“It’s difficult to know what we are completely missing out on as the regulations change,” she said. “My mum, sister and grandma have been waiting for at least two years to see who gets to put my cap after the last exam. They all wanted to do it, it’s a great honor.”

Instead, students lined up and put the caps on each other’s heads in unison. A great alternative, but not quite what her family expected.

The traditional white cap for graduates. (Photo courtesy of Mirah Christiansen.)

Christiansen’s classmates have all had different reactions to the lack of exams, and not everyone is rejoicing.

Not taking exams, she said, “made it feel very wrong, like we don’t deserve it without (the exams). A lot of emotion was taken away from us. Though the school has done their best, it still feels like a loss of something. It is like we got to the first checkpoint, but never to the finish line.”

While they may have graduated, the question of their grades has become a murky one.

“We don’t know how much of our grades are based on what, or which predicted grades are going to be used.”

There have been some good moments though, and while biting each other’s caps definitely wasn’t allowed, the school may have let one or two things slide.

“We couldn’t always help ourselves. The school reminded us to stay two meters apart, but they couldn’t trust a class who haven’t seen each other in a month, to not want to give each other a quick hug,” said Christiansen. “So perhaps they once or twice turned a blind eye.”

A black cap distinguishes students who are the first in their family to graduate or have other accomplishments. Note the classmates’ bite marks on the visor on this cap. (Photo courtesy of Mirah Christiansen.)

This class still hopes that they will get some of their celebrations.

Denmark, having gone into lockdown relatively early, has started opening up again. A celebration with family and friends has been planned for late June.

These are strange times for all. While loved and anticipated traditions are being cancelled, keeping the vulnerable safe and working to find a new normal for Denmark is what is important. These students belong to the class of 2020, but they might be remembered as the class of Covid 19.

Amy Goodman is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Denmark.

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