Most college students, including myself, study abroad in search of new experiences. Under the broad category of new experiences, there are also strange experiences. One such strange experience happened this week as I was sitting in a café in Padua. A 20-something-year-old woman came in with a leafy wreath and a pillow-sized fake boob hanging from her neck like an overly large pregnant stomach. She gave a brief announcement declaring that she was a “bufone” who had just graduated from the University of Padua. She then returned to the street as a troop of friends and family paraded alongside her shouting the Italian graduation chant, which roughly translated goes something like “Doctor, doctor, doctor you’re still just a [insert expletive here].”
Italian graduation celebrations are sweet, silly and mildly torturous. Graduation celebrations begin in a fashion familiar to Americans’. Graduates, family and friends take many photos together — dressed in formal wear — and usually share a meal together, often at a restaurant. Proud parents present their son or daughter with a wreath of leaves to be worn on their head or around their neck. Soon after this, however, the public humiliation begins.
In addition to the girl in the café, I have seen students with painted faces, in embarrassing costumes, covered in food and the subjects of a whole host of other strange pranks. Everyone, from your 80-year-old grandmother to your best friend, spends the day teasing you relentlessly. Of the more hilarious traditions is the poster made by the graduate’s friends. The poster features a rough caricature of the graduate and a long list of goofy stories and embarrassing moments from his or her life. Graduates are forced to read their posters aloud to their friends, family and even strangers, and it is later posted outside the university building for one full day for all to see. Then, a sort of parade begins, and the graduate is marched through the city in their costume. There is often alcohol involved — I recently witnessed one poor soul with two bottles of champagne duck-taped to his hands — and, of course, more chanting of the graduation song.
Admittedly, I wish I could have a “graduation, Italian style.” It seems that Italians want not to shame their graduates, but to humble them through fun and loving hazing. Of the many beautiful cultural idiosyncrasies of the Italian people is their love of laughter and their ability to laugh at life’s highs and its lows. There is certainly something very freeing about spending a day making a fool yourself and laughing off your embarrassing moments. As for me, the new experience of witnessing an Italian graduation celebration came a new sensation as well: I would have never thought I would be jealous of a girl dressed up as a boob.