On 30-31 May, some 150,000 Belarusians celebrated the conclusion of their secondary education. Graduation ceremonies, called the “last bell”, took place across the country. Students not only wore festive attire, as is common in Western Europe; they also gave flowers to their favourite teachers and recited poems, in a nod to the traditions Belarusians still associate with the occasion.

Students in Belarus can already graduate after the 9th grade and apply to vocational schools and community colleges. The alternative is to complete eleven school years and apply to a university.

For the graduates, the “last bell” is not really the last bell. The next step is to take final exams in four subjects – Belarusian or Russian language, history, a foreign language, and mathematics. After that come the graduation balls, which offer a brief interlude before students turn to standardised assessment tests in mid-June. Scoring high in these centralised examinations, which test both languages and sciences, is a key prerequisite for attending a top university in Belarus tuition-free. The first standardised assessment test, held on June 13, tests Belarusian language.

Photographer Siarhej Leskiec attended the “last bell” celebration in Zhodzina Women’s Gymnasium, the only single-sex educational institution in Belarus. The gymnasium traces its beginnings to Sunday-evening classes offered to high school girls in the early 1990s. Eventually, it became a full-fledged educational institution accredited by the government, and today turns out some of the highest-achieving students in the country.
















About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.