When I moved to South Africa I was very confused by the word matric. “My daughter is in matric,” someone would say, or, “My son is studying for matric exams,” and I would smile and nod, wondering what they meant. Eventually I figured out that matric is short for matriculation, and “passing matric” is sort of like graduating from high school, but more than that because the matric exams are also university entrance exams. (You can finish high school without passing matric, but you need to pass matric to go on to university.) South African 12th-grade students are “in matric”. And once they finish those dreaded matric exams at the end of the year, the students go to a banquet called “matric farewell”.
Matric farewell is like the American prom, but bigger — like prom and graduation rolled into one. It’s not just a big party for matriculants; the whole day is a celebration for the entire extended family and community, recognizing this huge achievement to which everyone has contributed. And, as my friends Lavinia and Fabian explained to me, matric farewell is a particularly big deal in the Coloured community. (For more about the what the word “Coloured” means in a South African context, read this post.) In Noordgesig, also known as Bulte (which means “Hills”), where Lavinia and Fabian live, matric farewell is a huge event of note.
I don’t have kids or lots of friends with kids, so even after many years in South Africa, the whole matric thing was still pretty foreign to me. So when Lavinia and Fabian invited me to photograph their oldest daughter, Micayla, as she got ready for her matric farewell celebration, I had to accept.
Micayla’s matric farewell was several weeks ago, on December 14th, so this story is rather late. But it’s actually a good week for it because the matric exam results are only released about a month after the students take them. This year’s nationwide results were officially released a few days ago, and South African matriculants have achieved their highest pass rate in history. I’m pleased to announce that Micayla also passed and her family is ecstatic.
Here is a photo story of Micayla’s matric farewell day.
Micayla’s Matric Farewell
The day started with Micayla getting her nails, hair, and makeup done. This in itself was a huge deal, as Micayla normally doesn’t wear makeup or fancy hairstyles and refuses to wear any shoes but sneakers. (Her cousins explained all this to me over the course of the day.)
At around 3:00 p.m., it was time to get dressed. Micayla is not the Cinderella-gown type so she wore a custom-made suit by local designer Donna-Lee Wentzel.
Fabian and Lavinia transformed the outside of their house for Micayla’s farewell programme, putting up a tent and draping the whole place in black, silver, and gold. There was a sound system, and a beautiful cake, and a red carpet and even a throne. Throngs of family and friends wearing white t-shirts and blue jeans (the assigned dress code for guests) started to arrive, gathering in small groups and sitting in chairs lining the perimeter of the property. The excitement was palpable.
Finally it was time for Micayla to make her public appearance. She danced out through the silver-draped doorway, to much cheering and adoration, and seated herself upon her throne.
I don’t know Micayla well at all. But just hanging out with her for those few hours before the big event, I could tell she wasn’t used to being in the spotlight and nervous about all of this fanfare. Nonetheless, Micayla came through that doorway and OWNED it, with no sign of nerves whatsoever. I was so impressed.
I already had goosebumps at this point. But the thrills had hardly begun.
Micayla’s date — her very handsome cousin, Deandre — pulled up in a vintage, convertible, maroon-colored BMW 325i with a shiny, low-riding VW polo trailing behind as its support vehicle. Exhaust pipes roared and the crowd went wild. Deandre waded in to the fray, met up with Micayla, and the pair was engulfed by paparazzi. I had to shove my way through to get some pictures.
The cars eventually drove off, in a literal blaze of glory, and Micayla was on her way to the matric farewell banquet — to be followed by an after-party that apparently lasts until the early hours of the morning. I thought maybe that was the end of the experience for the old (and young) folk left behind. But no: There was still one more crazy phase to this celebration.
Micayla was not the only matric celebrating in Bulte that day. All the other matrics were having similar events at their own homes, and around 6:00 p.m. they were all taking off, as Micayla was, to go to the banquet. It’s an annual tradition for all of the matric farewell cars to parade around in Noordgesig’s main square before they leave, and the entire neighborhood comes out to see them off. So Fabian and I and a bunch of other family members hurried up to the square to catch the parade.
Neither words nor photos can express the utter joy I saw, and experienced, in that parade. Maybe it’s like this every year. But I can imagine that after the covid years of 2020 to 2022 — which all of these matrics experienced as they worked to finish high school while dealing with hard-core lockdowns and maybe even losing family members — perhaps this particular matric farewell celebration was even more poignant than most.
Congratulations to Micayla, who plans to study IT at college this year. And special thanks to Micayla and her entire family for inviting me to experience this special celebration with them. It meant a lot.