When walking around town during the month of May you are likely to come across figures that stick out, such as an alien, a Teletubby, Zombies, squirrels, sea(wo)men, or giant bumble bees. You will be justified in fearing for a minute that you've lost the plot and are hallucinating. Rest assured: they're real, as in they're actually there, but there's no need to be alarmed. You are fine. They are just students celebrating, before locking themselves in for days to study and revise for their final exams in secondary school (framhaldsskóli).
This tradition is called dimmisjón or dimmission. It usually start early morning with breakfast somewhere and open bottle of, ehm, something. Classes often prepare some sort of short staged production, a dance and/or a song perhaps. to perform at school for fellow students and teachers. They also choose someone from their group to give a speech where they talk about their experiences at school and how their time there has changed them. They also take the opportunity to thank their teachers and present them with flowers or some memento of their time together.
Festivities in various forms last all day with classmates or study groups roaming around town in costumes. They go between places by bus or on foot - to wreak havoc, eat fast food and drink some more. After partying till some unspecified time past midnight, and weathering painful recovery the following day, it's time to study for the exams, this time with a few less brain cells than before.
Anyone who then passes the exams will become the bearer of the title stúdent, someone who has a stúdentspróf – the secondary school certificate needed in order to get into university. White caps, worn on graduation day are the proof of having received the certificate. If they wear the cap after that, to celebrate this milestone or for some other festive reason, they will wear it without the white cover, which leaves the cap black.
Students attend secondary school from age 16 til about 19 or 20. Friendships forged in secondary school usually become an important social net for Icelanders throughout life. They may disperse for a while, for studies, work abroad or because they are busy starting a family, but they will always be connected through the closeness and shared experience of those formative years. They often celebrate the anniversary of their graduation together, though this varies greatly between schools.
With the stúdentspróf in hand individuals can pursue their dreams in universities all around the world, if not in one of the seven universities found in Iceland. The oldest one is the University of Iceland, founded in 1911 where currently more than 15.000 students are studying. All in all there are just over 22.000 students studying at this level in Iceland*.
Have you ever thought about studying in Iceland? Why not? You would meet students from a hundred different countries; there are more that 300 foreign students at the University of Iceland alone! If you can't make it to Iceland, and you are studying at a university somewhere, look out for an Icelander! They are everywhere, hundreds of them, either full time students at foreign universities or exchange students, as studying abroad is very common for Icelandic students.
You could even take one of our courses and get them to practice Icelandic with you!
Click here for some beautiful photos of young students að dimmitera (doing that dimmission thing).
*2019, before Covid