Bell" has become a "fashion show
off" some say.
Today (May 23) another tradition in Armenia was
marked, as "Last Bell" signaled the
end of school.
Traditionally on this day, students dress in
their best clothes, arm themselves with flowers
and hold special ceremonies in their schools to
remember the day. Young girls wear white aprons
upon which their classmates write their well wishes
or fond farewells.
For those finishing 10th form, Last Bell means
entry to adulthood.
These days in Yerevan, the tradition has taken
on another color. Last Bell has become big business,
akin to the United States tradition of Prom Night.
Gifts, extravagant outfits, fancy restaurants
and limousine rides are becoming the norm. For
some, that trend has turned the day of celebration
into a day of alienation and embarrassment.
Fifteen year old Gegham Muradyan won't be participating
at his Last Bell party, because to do so would
require spending about $150, a sum his family
can only dream of.
"You have been studying for 10 years impatiently
waiting for the Last Bell and after that you don't
take part in it as you haven't got money,"
Gegham says. "Who decided that Last Bell
is only for eating and giving presents?"
He stopped talking and quickly left the room
as he didn't want to show his tears. His mother
says Gegham hasn't been attending school for a
month "as they are regularly rehearsing Last
Bell ceremony, talking about upcoming parties
and about clothes they are going to wear and cars
they are going to drive that day.
a tradition that marked the end of childhood,
it now marks the beginning of adult life.
"Last week we called in an ambulance two
times because as a result of his worries and hurts
he had terrible headaches and nervous system disorder
when his limbs turned numb."
Last year a teenage girl at School No. 77 committed
suicide two days before Last Bell. The family
lived across the street from the school and their
daughter hanged herself on the balcony in view
of her classmates.
Before taking her life she wrote a note to her
parents saying she did not want to become a burden
to them. She knew, she said, that they could not
afford Last Bell, so she took her life so they
wouldn't borrow money.
There are many children who find themselves in
such a situation on the edge of their new life.
Still, Last Bell is becoming more market scheme
Expenses for the Last Bell ceremony start at
$150 in the well-known schools of the city. At
Puskin School some pay $200. In the remote schools
of the city pupils can get by on $70 to $100 -
still, three to four times the average Armenian
with simple dolma, in with elaborate cakes.
For that amount students get a rented hall, a
class photograph and a party. But the most expensive
cost has become gifts for teachers. Depending
on whether a teacher's subject involves final
exams, typical gifts range from flowers to gold
chains. It is traditional to give the form master
a gold diamond inlaid piece.
An added expense is a present for the school
director. In many schools, classes have taken
to giving $50 (per class) to their director. With
four to five graduating classes, that makes Last
Bell a lucrative day for directors of some schools.
An important part of Last Bell is concerts and
ceremonies organized by schools. In times past,
the students wrote their own programs and sketches.
Now, however, some are hiring program directors
and purchasing scripts.
"The greatest pleasure of the Last Bell
ceremony is when children perform using their
own strengths and create themselves," says
teacher Rima Kerobyan. "It's ok if it isn't
a performance of high-quality but when they create
themselves it is always more touching and beautiful."
celebration can cost up to $200 or more. Some
families borrow money to pay for their children's
Kerobyan says that today's celebrations have
turned into a "dress-off and fashion show
where everyone demonstrates luxurious clothes.
Those who can't afford it, sit in some corner
of the classroom and hardly hold back tears waiting
until everything will be finished."
Decades ago, recalls journalist Arevik Avagyan,
Last Bell was a different time.
"We prepared dolma," she says. "One
of the class mates brought meat from somewhere
and that part of dolma with meat we gave to our
teachers. That was our party and it made us happy.
Today the important part is the is dress-off ."
Some parents put themselves in debt to assure
the child's participation in Last Bell.
"It happens only once in my child's life,
that's why I borrowed money at interest for buying
clothes, shoes and paying ceremony fee,"
says parent Nazely Saghatelyan.
Today children from outside regions also come
by buses to Yerevan. Usually they make circles
around Republic Square. But as it is under construction,
they gather instead this year at the Institute
of Manuscripts. Their capital is changing and
so are their times.