K-culture: Korean Graduation Traditions of the Past and Present

by Larissa Tsui

When I first found out about the tradition Koreans have of eating jjajangmyeon (자장면), black bean noodles, I was quite fascinated by it because I had never thought of a specific food being associated with graduation. Those of us in New Zealand, had all our friends and classmates sign our uniforms on the last day of high school, right? Wonder what Korean students do instead? Let me tell you some past and current graduation traditions that Koreans do when they graduate 🎓


You may know from our previous TMI article that jjajangmyeon is eaten on Black Day - a day for the singles, but this black bean sauce noodle dish is specially eaten on graduation days too! Nowadays, jjajangmyeon is considered to be a cheap meal in Korea. But back in the day, it was an expensive dish and was only eaten on special occasions. And that’s why it became a food that is to be eaten on graduation day to celebrate a huge milestone in life. Also, it’s a tradition that the graduate student would be the one to shout everyone the meal (p.s. thanks for the meal Staff Y 😉).


This past graduation tradition may shock many! Back in the 80s and 90s, students who just graduated middle school or high school would throw flour at each other (and sometimes eggs too) and tear their uniforms on the last day. So on the last day of school, you would see students covered in white from head to toe running around with their uniforms ripped and in pieces. Both of these traditions were an expression of all the suppression the students experienced while being students. It also symbolised the students have now become adults who are free to do what they want. As you can imagine, it also caused a lot of trash and made a mess of the schools and these behaviours have become too extreme. Now, schools organise more festival-like ceremonies for students and this messy scene has vanished.

The new and more recent traditions of celebrating this milestone are a fun way to congratulate students in a more personal and memorable way. One of the most iconic ways to celebrate this milestone now is taking cosplay graduation photos 📸 Usually, graduation photos are taken in a formal manner. Students wear their neat uniforms and pose formally. However, a few years back, students from Uijeongbu High School strayed from this traditional way of taking graduation photos and a new trend was born. Students would dress up as iconic characters from movies, dramas, animations (you name it, they did it), celebrities or even politicians and took fun photos like that. Since this new graduation photo-taking trend was born, many schools too, have followed and made their graduation photos fun and with personality 🖼 If you search #졸업사진컨셉 (graduation photo concept) online, you can find endless photos of these amazing dress-ups. 


Another common way to celebrate those who have made this big accomplishment in life nowadays is by expressing it through graduation banners. It’s no surprise that for this big accomplishment, they are willing to go big and extra to celebrate and congratulate it. Friends and classmates would create banners for those who are graduating and it’s not just the typical “Congratulations on your graduation!’ messages. They often throw in some jokes in there and include funny pictures too. If my friends did this for me I’d for sure be super touched by it and it’d make a really good memory 🥺 Standing wreaths are often used to congratulate big events too 🎀 But these are large and hard to move around so it’s not easy for graduation ceremonies. So human wreaths became a thing and are popular for celebrations. All you need to do is decide on your congratulatory message and print it on the ribbon, have your human hold it and you have yourself a walking human wreath that's easy to transport too!

The old graduation traditions have their meanings behind them or are simply wild. Though many of these traditions have vanished now, new graduation culture emerged for more fun and personal ways that can show each one's individuality to celebrate this great accomplishment of graduating from school.

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