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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Song and Sentiment at Final Bell

To the tinny strains of a nursery piano, a group of primly dressed 7-year-olds sang a slightly discordant chorus: "One day we'll be as big as you, One day we'll be size forty-two, Don't be afraid, we'll miss you too..."

Their audience was a hall full of dewy-eyed parents and dressed-up adolescents with red ribbons and silver bells pinned to their chests. The latter were clutching giant clumps of flowers presented to them by the younger children as part of the Russian equivalent of high-school graduation.

All over Russia on Thursday, high schools said goodbye to their senior students in a ceremony known as "The Final Bell."

At School No. 533, in the southern suburbs of Moscow, little pageants, songs, and plays had been prepared in honor of the departing 11th class.

The event's performers included a diminutive 9-year-old jester with a broken guitar, a collection of 7-year-old fairies complete with tinsel and wings, and a group of picnicking Pioneers in red caps and scarves. A host of other budding young thespians performed a sketch from "Pygmalion," a homily on the evils of drink, a Renaissance pageant and a series of sentimental songs on the passing of the years and golden schooldays. The walls were decorated with valedictory drawings done by the younger classes depicting ships sailing away and birds leaving nests.

Tears swelled in the eyes of headmistress Larisa Pendalchuk as her former charges recited poems they had written in praise of their teachers. "We are sincerely grateful for all your love and help; You found the way to our hearts, dear Larisa Ivanovna."

Even the cafeteria workers received paeans, with the stirring opening "Thank you for your lovely pies, Irina Ivanovna." Unlike their Western counterparts, the graduates seemed to approach the sentimental proceedings without snide cynicism or sniggering Beavis and Butthead-isms.

"In the last few years so much has arrived which is attractive and desirable, but it is also deceptive and misleading," warned the headmistress as she gave her farewell address.

"I want you all to be respectable people and earn your livings honestly." Many seemed ready to take her advice: Out of the 40-odd graduates, the vast majority will be taking college-entrance exams in July.

As the ceremony drew to a close, a crackly tape-recording of a warbling, acoustic rendition of Peter Gabriel's "Your Life" performed by Gary -- a temporary, but clearly popular, English teacher from Hastings -- was played on the PA. The one male teacher on the staff stepped forward with an accordion and began to sing "Goodbye, goodbye to school." As he sang, the teachers went up in pairs to join him, dabbing their eyes.

"Yes, I'm sorry to leave school," said Alexei Solovyov, 17, who plans to be an astrophysicist. "This ceremony may seem staged to you, but all the emotions are real."

"If he becomes a physicist he will be poor," said his mother, Valeria, "But at least he'll be educated. Better than being a businessman and making his money from others' effort."

"I have taught this class for seven years, and would be happy to go on teaching them forever," said Valentina Kolesnikova, who has been a teacher at School No. 533 for 24 years.

As she was entertaining her pupils at an oddly babyish tea party in a classroom painted with brightly colored children's characters, incongruously teenage pop music blared from a cassette deck. "They know I love them as though they were my own."