We could start with the fact that this kind of habits existed already in the prehistoric age. The still existing rituals that seem barbarous to us serve the same goal as the religious rituals of our cultural sphere: to become grown-up. In the Jewish religion, a boy becomes “the son of commandment” bar mitzvah at the age of thirteen, and a girl comes of age and becomes bat mitzvah at the age of twelve. This means that they are not children anymore according to the Jewish law, and they are obliged to respect rules and commandments; in return, they get the privileges and rights ensured by the religion. In Christianity, receiving the sacrament of confirmation symbolises the spiritual coming of age.
It is disputable if the matriculation exam is part of this tradition. One thing is certain that it was first introduced in Prussia in 1788, in order to filter the university aspirants. In Hungary, the institution of matriculation exists since the Bach era, 1851. During the past more than one and a half centuries, the circle of graduating students has changed a lot, and not only the privileged ones can take the examination. Increasingly wider layers of the society take their final exams.
The symbolic feature of the exam comes from an associated meaning of a certain general maturity, but the exam itself is only a closing episode of the ritual. A whole line of motifs is built on the traditions of coming of age. Pinning up the ribbon and wearing the ribbon symbolise the years spent at school, but also imply the last trial of strength: the final exam. Local superstitions related to the ribbon: those who lose it will not be able to pass the exam; or not wearing it increases the lack of success – but hopefully these superstitions have disappeared already.
Girls at school desks
In the 19th century, the education of women was limited to domestic skills and their obligations as female compatriots. No matter how noble mission was doing housewifely duties and preparing for motherhood, but they did not mean a challenge for everybody. In Hungary, women’s intentions towards higher education were neglected for a long time, to which the first Hungarian female doctor Vilma Hugonnai’s battle was a good example. Hugonnai graduated in Zürich in 1879, but her diploma was not recognized until 1897, partly because she did not have a high school diploma. Mrs. Pál Veres, the groundbreaker of the Hungarian education of women, had a great role in the fact that her degree was recognized finally after almost twenty years. Women have been allowed to do a public matriculation examination since 1896.
Howsoever matriculation is a commonplace, with the traditional sailor shirt and themes leaked out, but it is a milestone. Let it remain so!
Translated by Zita Aknai