My mother was born in 1951 and raised in Kemi, Finland, a small town in the southernmost reaches of Lapland about thirty kilometers from the Swedish border. She has lived in the U.S. for the last 41 years and has always (at least in my twenty-something year memory) kept this white cap on her dresser. Finns call this accessory an ylioppilaslakki, a hat given to all graduates of lukio, or the Finnish high school equivalent. In recent years, the Finnish education system has remained ranked as one of the best in the world. However, during my mom’s childhood, the system revered today was just beginning to take shape. Starting after WWII, Finland began investing in a structure that provided more equitable educational opportunity for all young Finns. The process was gradual and even in 1970, the year my mom matriculated from lukio, only 30 percent of Finnish adults had obtained the same upper-secondary diploma. My mom was the first in her family to attend college, earning a Bachelor of Science from the University of Helsinki. A year later, she secured admission to Brigham Young University along with an accompanying graduate teaching assistantship to pay for her tuition. Although my mother’s education-migration story is uncommon for her time, her determination and investment in education echoed the national aspirations that called for reform. Every May 1st, Finns of all ages don their ylioppilaslakkis for a celebration called Vappu in a show of both personal and patriotic pride.
– Kim M.