What is Iceland’s high school graduation culture like?

Dimmisjón - MR

For students graduating from upper secondary school (menntaskóli), Iceland’s closest equivalent to US high schools, celebrations begin on the last day of classes, when students on the verge of graduation celebrate their dimmisjón (also spelled dimmition or dimission, from the latin dimissio). Dimmisjón traditions differ between schools, but celebrations usually last all day and can include breakfast with teachers, school dinners, and house parties. Most notably, classes or friend groups decide on a group costume, and spend the afternoon cavorting down Laugavegur street dressed as animals, objects, or movie characters. Though Iceland’s legal drinking age is 20, it is rumoured that dimmisjón celebrations involve a few glasses of alcohol.

During the graduation ceremony, graduating students put the costumes away. There’s not a robe in sight but most students wear student caps. These are black caps with a black band and peak, decorated with a silver star. During graduation, menntaskóli students wear the cap covered in a white crown. One year after graduating, graduates remove the white cover and many wear their black cap to subsequent graduation celebrations.

Different versions of the student cap have been introduced next to the traditionally white-coloured crown. Students graduating from vocational education specialising in, for instance, trades, agriculture, or the fishing industry, use red and green instead.

Four Nurses Resign from Emergency Ward

Emergency room

Four nurses have resigned from their positions at the National Hospital’s Emergency Ward since yesterday, citing unacceptable working conditions and strain, RÚV reports. Ten other resignations took effect last March, and ER Department Head Helga Rósa Másdóttir says staffing shortages are already affecting the ward’s operations.

The emergency ward at Iceland’s National University Hospital has 30 beds. Nearly 100 patients were registered there yesterday, 33 of which should have been in other wards that could not admit them due to lack of space. Some patients waited over five hours for medical attention.

Such days have become the norm rather than the exception, according to Soffia Steingrímsdóttir, a nurse who resigned from the ER yesterday after seven years in the position. In a Facebook post, Soffia stated that she loves her job, but has given up hope that the situation at the ER will improve.

Cuts elsewhere impact emergency services

Helga Rósa told RÚV she is concerned it will be impossible to fully staff the ER this summer when many of its regular staff go on vacation. Staffing shortages are already affecting the department, which cannot utilise all of its space because it does not have enough staff to monitor the entire area. Helga says cuts elsewhere in the healthcare system come down on the ER, which ends up with patients on its hands that should be treated elsewhere but are turned away for lack of room.

Emergency ward staff have been vocal about the ward’s situation for years, stressing that staffing shortages and poor conditions put patients at risk. In 2019, a partial audit published by the Directorate of Health found neither lodging nor staffing conditions at the emergency ward fulfilled regulations and that the ward could not ensure patients’ rights regarding care. In the wake of the audit, the Director of Health recommended increasing staff at the ward, particularly nurses, as well as reviewing their wages and working conditions.

Fishing Industry Profits Spark Wealth Distribution Debate

fishing in Iceland

Iceland’s largest seafood companies made huge profits last year, if the first published financial statements are any indication, Fréttablaðið reports. Opposition MPs are arguing that the industry should be taxed more so its earnings are more evenly distributed throughout Icelandic society. According to Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir, the nation sees the industry as unjust, largely because consolidation of fishing quota has funnelled large profits into the hands of very few individuals.

Billions in profits

At the end of 2020, the seafood industry’s equity was evaluated at ISK 325 billion [$2.6 billion; €2.4 billion]. In the same year, the industry paid just under ISK 4.8 billion [$37.7 million; €35.2 million] in quota fees, while the state treasury faced record financial challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The fishing industry has continued to grow despite the pandemic recession. Between 2020 and 2021, the total value of catch in Iceland increased around 9%, from ISK 148.3 billion [$1.2 billion; €1.1 billion] to ISK 162.2 billion [$1.3 billion; €1.2 billion], according to figures from Statistics Iceland. Prospects continue to be good, especially since the price of fish has risen dramatically in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Four companies hold 60% of quota

Just four companies hold around 60% of Iceland’s fishing quota: Samherji, Brim, KS, and Ísfélagið. Brim reported profits of ISK 11.3 billion [$88.8 million; €82.9 million] last year, and Síldarvinnslan’s profits are similar. In the first three months of this year, Síldarvinnslan has made profits of nearly ISK 4 billion [$31.4 million; €29.3 million]. Samherji, Kaupfélag Skagfirðinga (KS), and other fishing industry giants have not yet submitted financial statements from last year, but similarly high profits are expected.

In a column published in Morgunblaðið yesterday, Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated that the nation viewed the consolidation of fishing quota in so few hands as deeply unjust, and that it felt that this collective resource was not distributed fairly.

Fishing money in other sectors

Opposition MP and Social-Democratic Alliance Chairman Logi Einarsson echoed these words. “We have watched a huge accumulation of wealth in very few hands, which has also led to a small number of individuals not only holding the majority of fishing quota, but due to this same wealth, accumulated assets in many parts of society, in unrelated sectors.” Logi named these sectors as the media, real estate, transport, grocery stores, energy, and even insurance and banking.

“This creates a very unhealthy situation,” Logi continued. “And now that the entire public expects worsening livelihoods and various healthcare and welfare services are underfunded, quota holders should certainly pay more toward public expenditure, they are well capable of it, to say the least.”