Swedes typically go to school with the same set of friends for nearly their entire undergraduate time. In our little village school, as in most, kids stay together for grades 1-6, changing teachers every three years. A great many of them, if they don't switch schools for some reason, stay with the same classmates all the way through 9th grade as well, and reunions for 9th grade classes are a big deal here for adult Swedes.
Picking a gymnasium (or high school) is a lot like choosing a college in the US. They have to apply to programs at schools and be accepted, depending on their grades and test scores. Kids have to have some idea of what program they want to concentrate on, or what they want to be when they grow up, so they can direct the classes they take during high school toward that end and continue the program once they enter university (if they do). Many high schools are vocational here, and teach everything from waiting tables (which is not at all the same as in the US) to hair dressing to plumbing or computer programming. Many kids who leave gymnasium have a practical education which has included internship time and can start work right out of the gate, so to speak.
Others plan their gymnasium time as "university prep" and study what we think of as a more liberal arts curriculum: languages, social studies, economics, math, sciences. They're planning to go on to further education at college level, in most cases.
High school graduation is a huge deal with many traditions surrounding it here. There are specific types of clothing that kids wear: white, summer, formal. And a specific graduation hat that they all must purchase themselves. When I graduated from high school, we rented the hat and robe that was the American uniform for graduation day. The only thing we kept was the tassel on the hat which typically has the colors of the school and a medallion stating the class year of graduation.
Studentmössar (Graduation caps) here are a big deal and quite expensive, starting at around $60 and heading upwards of a couple hundred depending on how much the particular student pimps them, despite the fact that they are typically worn ONLY ONCE and then relegated to the closet. Older Swedes often bring theirs out and dust them off and wear them for a grandchild's or child's graduation, but not always. Our kids were horrified at the idea that their father might do so: how embarrassing! (He didn't). This style of graduation cap has been around since the mid-1800s and was already popular in Denmark and Germany before coming to Sweden. After a brief period of being considered antiquated and bourgeois in the '60s, they seem to be more popular than ever.
The caps have to be ordered several months in advance and while they are all the same basic style, there are subtle differences that can be decided upon and lots of bling that can be added: the student's name, school, and class embroidered around the edge in various colors of thread. Different color ribbons and linings to indicate your program or school, pockets on the inside to hold money or ID, embossing on the top with a meaningful school emblem or design. Different color stones for the medallion on the front. Everything you add or change jacks up the price, so it's easy to spend a lot of money on them.
For boys, a suit or tuxedo is common, with a white shirt. For girls, short white formal dresses or pantsuits are typical. But these are usually additional expenditures because they must be new and cool (and are often the first suit a boy acquires). In addition, about a week or so before graduation, there is also the prom (studentbal) which ALSO requires the purchase of formal evening clothes plus tickets to an exclusive dinner dance. It's a big deal as well, with parents coming to take pictures of the dressed up kids as they get ready to enter the event. At least for boys, they can often get away with wearing the same suit to both events.
I can only speak for the things that my kids have done and are doing for their graduation day and ceremonies, but they are fairly typical, as far as I can tell, all over Sweden. The morning of graduation the kids typically have a champagne breakfast at the school with their class and teachers. They spend the morning and lunch hanging out and participating in various activities at the school.
In Sweden, student week is often a nightmare for the bigger towns as they are soon packed with extra traffic and visitors. The biggest schools stagger their graduation days during the last week of school. In Lund, that means Karin's school graduates on Tuesday, the school Martin went to goes out on Wednesday, and the other big school graduates on Thursday. All the other smaller schools stagger the various days as well, from Monday to Friday.
Between 1 and 4 pm on graduation day, each homeroom class is "let out" at a specific time. They run screaming out of the school onto the steps or a stage or courtyard and dance around screaming and popping champagne for 5-ish minutes while their song of choice plays loudly over the school's loudspeaker system. Proud parents and family members jostle in a huge crowd trying to take videos or photos. We could barely see Martin at his because the area where they came out on stage was so low and so narrow.
After their class is shooed off the stage to make room for the next one, hugging and crying and greeting commences and the kids have to shove their way through the crowds to find their parents who are all holding up a congratulations sign or poster with a childhood photo of their kid and their name and class on it. The more embarrassing/cute the photo, the better. Everyone who is graduating is greeted and decorated with stuffed animals, small bottles of champagne, flowers, etc., hanging from blue & yellow ribbons around their necks. You need to bring a bunch of these for both your own child and his/her friends.
Next on the agenda (and sorry, for you TL;DR people we're just getting started) is an hour-long ride around town in a flak, which is a truck with an open container on the back. These are rented and fitted out with a stereo loudspeaker system, decorated with new spring green tree branches and hung with giant signs painted by the kids with humorous slogans, their names, and class info. Filled with screaming, singing, often drunk, graduates, dozens of these trucks slowly circle the town or village, jamming traffic and annoying or amusing the inhabitants. This is obviously not the safest tradition around, and nearly every year, at least one death is reported from someone falling from a truck.
While the kids are partying on the flaks, the parents have rushed home to get everything finalized for the party. Almost always, graduation parties (or studentfests) are held at home in the garden, typically with a tent. Some people rent a party location or use a common room. But most often, weather usually being decent in June (though not always a guarantee), they're held outside. Tents set up with benches or chairs and tables for the incoming guests. A table for presents. Buckets of water for bouquets of flowers. A table full of welcome drinks. The buffet table: usually consisting of cold cuts like roast beef, chicken, smoked salmon, with salads and potato salads and fruit. For dessert there are often studenttårtor; cakes decorated to look like graduation caps. And of course coolers full of sodas, beer, and wine. All the food and drinks, of course, have to be ordered/catered or prepared ahead of time.
And everything is decorated with blue and yellow flags, flowers, banners, signs, ribbons, balloons, etc. Sweden hej hej! Approximately 115,000 students graduate high school every year in Sweden, so it adds up to a big business for those selling studenten services like caps, poster/invite design & printing, clothing, catering, booze, car and truck rentals, and decorations.
Guest lists typically consist of family and closest friends. For Martin's we ended up with around 45 people. Karin's will be decidedly larger: around 75 most likely. Which is the amount of guests her father and I had at our WEDDING. *rolls eyes* The invitations are sent out a couple of months in advance. I designed and printed the ones we used for both of our kids. There is usually some sort of game for the guests who are typically waiting for some time for the guest of honor to arrive.
If you haven't already arranged a driver, one of the parents will have to return to town to pick up their graduate, and usually that means in some sort of cool ride. Martin came home in a motorcycle sidecar. Karin wants a sports car, so we're checking to see if anyone we know has a really nice or really old cool car we can borrow. Anders' sister's husband has a nice Porsche, so we may hit him up for that.
The graduate arrives just after the party's official start time, and celebrations commence, followed by dinner, dessert, speeches (usually tearful ones by the parents) and gift-opening. Many gifts consist of money twisted into flowers and inserted into bouquets. Most kids these days tend to request money as gifts toward a specific thing like school, travel or a big-ticket item. In Martin's case, it was his trip to Peru. Karin is asking for donations toward a MacBook.
After the guests start leaving, the graduate usually leaves as well, to visit other friends' graduation parties, or to join in the celebrations in town or at a nightclub. We'll be lucky if we see Karin afterward for several days, I'm sure :D
And that's, well...it. I feel that we are about half-ready.
Read about and see photos from Martin's graduation in 2016.