Everybody knows, it sucks to grow up, but everybody does. ... The years go on and we're still fighting it. (Ben Folds, "Still Fighting It")
So the day before graduation was, if you recall, The Worst Weather ever. Graduation day itself was a lot clearer, cloudy, cold as hell (for March, I mean), snow on the mountains and all, but it made for pretty photos I'm sure.
I wasn't very good at the ceremony. It takes effort for me to pay attention to people speaking a language that isn't English, and even when I apply that effort, I can only get some of the gist of what is being said. It takes a lot of guesswork, and I never like to assume that I am right. Still, it requires me to do that. So for that reason, the speeches by the various distinguished dudes? Had me fighting sleep.
The calling forward of the graduates' names was something to which I wish I'd been more attentive, though. I had watched them in practice a few times, but in actual ceremony, I wandered. It was cold, I was actually sitting down, I had a cough, whatever.
I really did sit up and take note when the new president came up to deliver what I think was a message to the graduates from their underclass peers. And when one of the graduating students gave what I think was a speech on behalf of the class.
I tried to sing along when everyone sang "Goodbye, goodbye, we won't forget you," and then I really started to choke up when the graduates got up to sing their graduate song. Because at that point I noticed that a lot of them were crying. And my brain went into sympathetic-mode.
Aw, don't make them sing, look at them, they don't want to sing... change is hard.. but they are so brave. Be brave, kids!
But it was kind of awesome to see my badass, really-huge-especially-for-Japan boys crying at their own graduation. I feel like, at the few graduations I've attended in the US, the prevailing mood is one of victory and escape, almost. Like you finally conquered and completed school, got what you came for, or something like that. And I had a hard time with that, at least personally.
It might be different here because the school system is different. For one thing, your grades and performance have very little (um, I think nothing?) to do with whether to advance to the next grade or not. You don't flunk/fail/get held back around here. So graduation? Maybe doesn't have to have that association to accomplishment. It was easy for me to identify with this, not because I was an underachiever, but because achieving in school was just what I did, and I didn't feel like it was a big deal to have accomplished what came naturally to me. Graduation was a lot more like being evicted from a lifestyle I had finally learned to appreciate.
So that is apparently expected at their graduation, a sort of simultaneous happy-sad, a kind of mourning for what is lost, but excitement for what comes next.
Anyway, I'm in a place in my life where I watch things like graduation with the understanding that, at least for some of us, change is pretty hard, but it's also pretty important, and so we have to just kind of be brave and go into it.
After that part, we went outside to see them off, but they didn't actually leave right then; they hung around taking pictures and talking to everyone and saying their sort of goodbyes. At one point, this lady was talking to our vice principal, thanking him for something, then all of a sudden she turned to me and said, "And Emily-sensei, thank you," (in Japanese) and continued to say how her son had talked about me teaching English to him, and had showed her the truck I gave him as a present.. at which point I realized I was talking to our special needs kid's mom, and had no idea what to say.
Because really, it never occurred to me that I had much of an impact on that student, even though we did have one-on-one-on-one (the VP, the student, and me) classes about once every week or two.. but like, we hardly ever did anything where I saw English progress, really.. mostly we watched YouTube videos of trucks, because the kid just likes trucks, is all. Sometimes we'd ask him what's this, or what color? And he always said "pink," and we always laughed and said, "Not pink! Green/blue/red/white/black/whatever!" And, especially because I have trouble understanding Japanese most especially if it is accented or in any way different from the standard stuff I learned in school, I basically had no idea what this kid was thinking, ever, except that I got the impression he was a generally happy kid who "talks a lot," as the VP always said.
So it was really cool, I guess, to find I'd been doing a different job than teaching English all along, and even more, I'd done it well. The VP always used to say "Why don't you find more videos of trucks, because he likes them," and occasionally I would wonder, what does it matter if I do it or someone else does it, it's not like I'm making any kind of impact over here English-wise. But in the end, I knew about YouTube, and I was patient and nice, and I also happen to be a foreigner, and so I guess that part of my job that is just "be foreign in Japan, but be a good foreigner," was what I was up to, those days.
Anyway, the students milled around, and I liked just sort of standing back watching it all. I saw my speech-contest girl and took a photo with her..
Took a few photos of groups that had gathered to pose. Got invited to be in a few. Then I sort of stood back and watched the chaos and love unfold, because I think it's kind of just cool.. I can see that these kids mean a lot to their teachers, their parents, and each other, whether I am part of it or not. I thought about crying because I really will miss the way Giant Student 1 talked both in the halls and in class (he has this way of repeating a word or phrase, including names, really fast over and over to get your attention or something), or how he always yelled "Good morning!" when it was afternoon. Or the way Giant Student 2 would say, "Oh, Emily!" and then give this I'm-too-cool kind of wave, and say "Hello." (not "Hello!".. there was definitely a graveness to it every time).. and when he was my dust-hockey partner for cleaning time.
And at that point, my speech-contest girl came back up to me and said "Emily! [something in fast Japanese I didn't understand]" So I just kind of stared at her and said "What." She stopped and thought for a second, then said super enthusiastically, "Don't! Forget!"
So I naturally burst into tears, because honestly I don't know what they think this is, but it's kind of sweet to think they're all making much deeper impressions on this ferner than they realize. I was bent over, laughing and crying at the same time, and I finally stood up and told her, "Don't worry." Then she said, "Don't cry?" in Japanese, and I laughed again and said that wasn't really something I could do for her. And then she hugged me and went away again.
I shook the hands of some of my favorite students that I'll miss the most, and I headed back inside because I knew then that I was done. Yesterday as I walked up to the school, it felt oddly empty just knowing that whole band of bright and boisterous students was not there. And today, it's Friday, and I used to eat lunch with them on Fridays. (They were always really excited to have me come to their class so they could be too shy to speak to me.. haha, but no.. that class was very good about giving it a shot, which is why I'll miss them.. they didn't take it seriously enough to worry about fucking up, which freed them up to try.)