They call it последний звонок in Eastern Europe, “Last Bell.” It is the last day of school traditionally ending on the 25th of May every year. The Last Bell is the last day of school for eleventh year students as students across the former Soviet Union countries attend 11 years of school, instead of the usual 12 as in most Western countries. Unlike the West, schools in the East emphasize academics over sports and other activities.
The attire for Last Bell is quite specific. Today young girls will be outfitted in short dark dresses with white lace aprons, white knee-high socks and black shoes, and white hair bows. Boys will wear business suits accompanied with a colourful shoulder sash. Except for the short skirt lengths, these uniforms date back to the time of the Tsars as part of a standard school uniform. Today’s uniforms are more conservative but for the “last bell” students have made this attire a long-standing tradition.
Today really is the very “last bell” for those who are finishing school and part of the traditional ceremony is for a bell to be rung by a first-year primary school pupil. Today after school you can see the graduating students nearly everywhere.
Parts of the “Last Bell” ceremonies are akin to a graduation ceremony but the last bell includes all students and is a day long event. Senior students come on the stage to receive a school medal and receive congratulations from teachers. During the ceremony there are plays, poetry and literature readings, and musical exhibitions as well.
As part of the program some of the students and selected parents address the teachers to formally thank them dedication and hard work over the years on behalf of training the students.
Tears will fall when students sing Прощальная песня (the farewell song). The song is called “Когда уйдем со школьного двора” which literally is “When we leave from the school yard.”
Today 11th year (senior) students have a week to prepare for the grueling State Examinations begin (Единые государственные экзамены or ЕГЭ) or Unified State Exams, which they must pass to meet the high-school requirements. While they receive their ‘school medal’ today, their official diploma won’t arrive until they have completed and passed state exams.
Senior students in Moscow usually gather on Manezhnaya square near the Kremlin, Poklonnaya Gora (Victory Park) or at the other places to party, drink alcohol, and play in the city fountains. Markets near schools are supposed to restrict alcohol sales but somehow kids find a way to purchase it.