For Class of ’51, a long-delayed day of delight
On Thursday, a graduation ceremony 61 years overdue took place at Songdo High School in Incheon. This ceremony recognized the 200 students of the 32nd graduating class that were not able to complete their education because of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Originally located in Kaesong, North Korea, Songdo High School was named after the city’s old nickname and established in 1906 by independence activist Yoon Chi-ho. With the outbreak of war, Kaesong was infiltrated by the North Korean Army and the school closed down. While the city was restored as South Korean territory during the Battle of Incheon, Kaesong changed hands again during the Third Battle of Seoul.
Songdo High School left Kaesong in 1952 and was re-established in Incheon. In the process of relocation, many student records were lost, including those of the 32nd graduating class.
The class was set to receive their diplomas in the spring of 1951, but a majority of the students enlisted in the Army when the war broke out. Some matriculated in the Korean Military Academy, while others became guerrillas in the North Korean province of Hwanghae.
Because they could not return to their alma mater after the armistice, the students of the 32nd class were able to continue on to institutions of higher education only through a system of “neighbor’s guarantee.” Under the system, universities admitted students on the testimony of their neighbors that they had completed secondary school.
These students moved on to play a major role in modernizing Korea after the war.
While the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology could not retrieve student records prior to the Korean War, Songdo High School was able to prepare diplomas for the 32nd graduating class by confirming their student status in existing military records.
Only 26 of the 200 original students were able to attend the belated graduation ceremony. The average age of those receiving diplomas was 81.
Huh Kang, a graduating student who attended the ceremony, expressed delight at finally receiving his diploma after all these years.
But it was a delight tempered by the memory of those who were absent. “It’s sad that those who are no longer in this world or those with whom we’ve lost touch cannot be with us today,” said Huh.
In his congratulatory speech, Kwon Young-seop, Songdo High’s headmaster, commended the graduates for their commitment to their country and society in a variety of fields.
“As not only the representative of the alma mater, but also a junior in life, it is an honor for me to present these diplomas to you,” he said.
By Chung Gi-hwan[firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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