Is this the most colorful graduation class photo you've seen?
Image: class of 2014
These students were the proud recipients of their certificate ii in permaculture earlier this month. This class are Bhutanese refugees and the class combined their studies four days a week of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) with a day a week in the garden at the National Environment Centre (NEC) learning about permaculture. Students opted in to join the class, and as such it tended to attract students who had had agriculture or food-growing experiences before coming to Australia. The combined focus meant the program was supported by both an ESOL teacher and permaculture teacher at each class. I've been fortunate to teach into this program for 18 months from the permaculture side (a role I shared with Lou Bull). Ruth Yule from Riverina Institute of TAFE's Albury campus was the ESOL teacher.
So why are even the teachers wearing saris? It began after a conversation with the previous cohort (class of 2013) about graduation. We were discussing what graduation was; who they should invite; and how the evening would proceed. One of the students said ‘For a Bhutanese celebration we would wear saris. Should we wear saris to graduation?’ To which Ruth replied, ‘Yes! It's a celebration, wear a sari.’
Shortly thereafter another question came, ‘Are the teachers going to wear saris?’ Ruth and I looked at each other before she replied ‘The teachers don't own saris’, which I naively thought would be the end of the conversation. We all returned to class work (I thought), though there was quite a bit of excited-sounding Nepali being spoken among the students. A few minutes later, with a big grin on her face, another student said, ‘If we bring some saris, will the teachers wear a sari at graduation?’ Another glance was exchanged between Ruth and I, and a lot of giggling by the students. ‘Yes, ok - if you can help us, the teachers will also wear saris to graduation’.
And so it was that I wore Renuka's wedding sari to graduation last year. Ruth and Lou were also loaned (and assisted with dressing in) saris too. I think the colorful attire was at least a little bemusing to some of the graduates of other courses, and to some of our work colleagues - particularly as I don't think they've ever known me to wear anything other than shirt, jeans and boots at TAFE.
And this year, despite not seeing any of the class in the lead up to graduation, this year’s class had also brought saris for us ... and my 'big effort' to don a skirt for the occasion was replaced by metres of brilliant pink fabric and embroidery. (Fortunately I'd also ditched the work boots for the night).
Teacher attire is obviously an aside. Graduation for this class really is something special. For many of them, it’s their first qualification ever. Some have had little or no previous schooling, so it’s not just the challenge of learning English; it’s the challenge of literacy to enable them to complete a permaculture certificate. I’ll write some more about the nature of the class shortly, but suffice to say that graduation for this class, in particular, truly is a cause for celebration.
Congratulations to all!