This blog post is part of a year-long series, School Year: Learning, Poverty, and Success in a South African Township. Read more on the School Year Blog.
On the first day of school, COSAT held an opening ceremony in their large, warehouse-like auditorium. It had a lot of memorable moments.
There was a beautiful opening hymn, and a stirring rendition of the national anthem – both sung by the student body.
There was a speech from last year’s top senior, telling current students that they need to “focus” and “fix their problems” right now. They had “better not wait until June” to start working hard in school. (She also slipped in: “At COSAT, we don’t like failure.”)
There was an extremely sad moment of silence for a student who committed suicide last year, after failing his final exams.
There were words of motivation from a member of a civic organization working to improve Khayelitsha. She reminded the students that their entire community is counting on them to do well in school. And, she added, they had better behave. She claimed that “it’s rare to find a COSAT uniform on the street after eight o’clock.” (Presumably, that’s when the troublemaking begins.)
But the most memorable moment of all was the crazy, ear-splitting screaming of students during the “Choc Awards” – a ceremony to honor the school’s top academic achievers, and reward them with chocolate. (The chocolate is actually quite a special treat for most kids, who have almost no disposable income.) As student after student stepped on stage to be honored, their friends screamed as if they were in the presence of rock stars, rather than peers. As one student later put it, “We like to support them, and let them know that they’re doing a good job.”
If decibel levels are any indication, their support is off the charts.
Here’s a short video clip that captures the insanity. WARNING: TURN DOWN YOUR VOLUME NOW!