Graduation is the climax of any workshop. The students have spent a week living (literally) in a total immersion environment of photography and storytelling. Learning, shooting, testing techniques, making mistakes, achieving successes, editing their work, facing the semi-public scrutiny of the critique of their teachers and peers, struggling and having a blast of a good time – it’s all part of the week. But Saturday is the day to shine. Saturday is the time to show the world that, in less than a week, they had become true professionals in their craft and their art.
It’s a day of arrival and a day of extreme pride.
Pride, too, for the instructors and parents. It’s hard to describe the skill and effort it takes to be an instructor in this environment. There’s no time to fight jet lag, altitude, weather, new types of food, new living conditions, a new culture with its unique rules, teenage emotions, some language issues, logistics, weather, very long hours, and the ever-present desire and self-imposed pressure to produce extraordinary photographers from novices in a very short period of time. The preparation of the students’ final slide shows (the final exam, as it were) is therefore a combination of excitement, anxiety and pride, for instructors and students alike. And for the parents, it’s the affirmation that they did the right thing by giving up their children for a whole week to five complete strangers in a remote location, out of their sight and control.
So, as I think you can see, graduation is a really important moment for all. In the case of this workshop, we travelled from the hotel in Paro to a large room at the VAST Gallery in Thimphu, the capital city where we had shot several of our stories in two days of commuting. About half of the students lived in Thimphu, so we were pleased that several families could attend.
But the star attraction was the guest of honor, Madame Aum Sangay Zam, Secretary of Education of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Her presence, arranged by Mr. Ghaley of Save The Children, meant a great deal to the students, their parents, all of the instructors and Save The Children. It was a true honor for her to attend, and an important validator of all of our work. We hung prints of the students’ favorite images on the walls surrounding the seats, and the Secretary remarked how impressed she was with the quality of their work.
The ceremony consisted of several speeches of thanks, six incredibly moving slideshows, a wonderful speech by the Secretary, and handing out the diplomas. Each slide show was preceded by short talks by each of the students, which reinforced the value of the program. Many said that it was the best week of their life and that the workshop had changed them forever.
When it finally seemed over, most of the students remained to accompany the instructors on one final shopping trip. We were urged to go to the handicraft shops in Thimphu to buy scarves, bowls, darts and other souvenirs. To our surprise, our groups bought us gifts, in addition to the beautiful book of the King’s photographs presented to us by Mr. Ghaley that was signed by all of our students. It was a warm farewell, indeed, when those of us returning to Paro got on the bus for the last trip to the hotel.
No workshop had ever been like this. It was as unique for the instructors as it was for the students. We were all changed for good. It was an unforgettable experience.