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.

Can you give me information about Iceland’s school system? Are there grade schools, middle schools, and high schools?

Iceland’s educational system is divided into four levels: leikskóli (preschool), grunnskóli (compulsory school), framhaldsskóli (upper secondary school), and háskóli (higher education). The system is comparable to other Nordic education systems but differs from the US model, for example. Preschool is for children aged 1-6. This first level of the education system is non-compulsory. In preschool, children learn through play, acquiring valuable skills they can later use in their school career.

Compulsory school is for all kids aged 6-16 and is the only compulsory level of education in Iceland. The school year lasts nine months and runs from late August until early June. This tier is divided into primary and lower secondary school, and these are often housed in the same school building. In Reykjavík, compulsory schools can have over 1,000 pupils, while rural schools might have as few as ten.

Following lower secondary school, students attend upper secondary school between the ages of 16-19. Everyone who has completed compulsory education has the right to attend upper secondary school, but it is not required. There are entry requirements for different courses, and students who fail to meet the criteria can follow a general programme of study. Especially in Reykjavík, some schools are more popular than others, and the most popular schools turn down hundreds of prospective students every year. Secondary vocational education is also offered after compulsory education. Students can learn a trade or receive vocational training in, for example, agriculture, the fishing industry, or food production.

From age 19, students can attend university. Iceland currently has seven universities, of which the oldest is the University of Iceland, established in 1911. Iceland University of the Arts, the Agricultural University of Iceland, Hólar University, Bifröst University, Reykjavík University, and Akureyri University make up the others.

Kvennaskólinn Students Celebrate Peysuföt Day

Reykjavík’s Kvennaskólinn, or Kvennó, upper secondary school held its annual Peysuföt Day on Friday, RÚV reports. This is an almost century-old tradition wherein the second-year students dress in Iceland’s national costume and celebrate with traditional songs and dancing.

Peysuföt is the name for the Icelandic women’s national costume that was introduced in the 19th century. As explained on the Icelandic National Costume website site, 19th century peysuföt was simpler and less decorative than the costume it proceeded from, which was known as faldbúningur. Generally black or dark blue, it consisted of a tasseled cap, woolen skirt with a patterned apron, and long-sleeved jacked, or peysa, from which it takes its name. In the 20th century, “peysuföt…evolved with changing times, fashion trends and the availability of materials,” continues the site, but it still included the tightly-fitted peysa, the plackets and cuffs of which were now “trimmed with velvet, and the sleeves were slightly puffed at the shoulder.” A lace or embroidered stomacher was also added, as was a large silk bow tied at the neck.

Accompanied by an accordionist, Kvennó students began their celebrations on Friday by singing and dancing in front of the Ministry for Culture before moving along to a nursing home where they performed for residents and staff. There was more dancing and singing in front of one of the buildings on the students’ own campus, as well as at another nursing home and in Ingólfstorg square downtown after lunch. Students were then served cocoa and cake back at their school and were treated to a more expansive spread of treats than usual this year, in honor of the 100-year anniversary of their student association.

See a video of previous Peysuföt Day celebrations held by the Versló school:

Preparations for this year’s celebrations at Kvennaskólinn have been underway for a long time, as in addition to learning a number of songs for the occasion, the students were also taught to dance the skottís folk dance.

See the skottís performed:

Interestingly, students at Kvennaskólinn were required to wear the national costume to school from 1874, when Kvennaskólinn first opened as a women-only upper secondary institution, until 1906. (Kvennó became a co-ed school in 1977.) Although it was no longer required dress after 1906, many students still wore the national dress as something of a uniform until 1920, when only a few students are remembered as maintaining the tradition. The first official Peysuföt Day was initiated by students the following year, in 1921, and has been celebrated every year since.