I should preface this post by saying that I am not crying. Just in case you got any ideas.
However, if I was, I would be entirely within my rights.
Today is graduation day and I just said goodbye to my wonderful, ridiculous ninth graders for the last time.
As instructed, I showed up this morning in my little-worn black suit, black shoes (instead of my usual ugg boots), pearl earrings and brooch. I was glad I’d added the extra touches because all my teachers were looking very smart.
Side note: apparently ‘brooch’ in Japan means massive flowery thing with feathers and pearls and sparkly things in it. My little silver Scottish emblem paled in comparison.
The school gates had two large Japanese flags flying proudly and, despite the freezing temperatures, the sun had come out for the occasion.
Students, parents and teachers began filing into the gym at nine, and everyone was either wearing black suits or kimono which set the tone for the very serious event which was about to take place.
When everyone was in place, the ninth grade proceeded in, accompanied by Pomp and Circumstance. They were all wearing big red and white rosettes on their military-style uniforms (standard Japanese school uniform) and they looked sufficiently grave and rather lovely.
First, each student was called to walk onto the stage, where the principal read their name from their certificate, and presented it to them. These were accepted in a very specific way; left hand, arm outstretched, right hand, arm outstretched, pause, deep bow, step to the side.
When every student had recieved their certificate in this way, and an acceptable number of bows had been performed, the principal gave a speech.
Obviously I have no idea what he was talking about for 99.9% of the time, so I just listened for the few words I could catch.
This was followed by a speech from the head of the PTA; same deal there.
Then an eighth grade boy–a cheeky but likeable smartass with a swagger and a shaved head–got up to make a speech on behalf of the rest of the school.
I was able to follow his speech a little more, and it seemed to focus on how, for the last four years, the ninth graders have been kind and supportive leaders. During the speech his face looked really strange, and it wasn’t until his voice actually cracked that I realised he was fighting tears.
It was a near thing by the time he finished his speech, but he struggled through and it wasn’t until he was actually walking back to his seat that the tears overtook him a bit.
Then a ninth grade girl gave a speech on behalf of ninth grade and when she was finished, we all sang the school song. The programme had the words in it (all in kanji, unfortunately) but I managed to follow most of it so I joined in for the first time.
Then the ninth graders turned around to face the rest of the students, the teachers and parents to sing their graduation song ‘Tegami’ (letter) which is apparently the Japanese equivalent of ‘Time of Your Life’ or ‘Friends Forever’.
The first thing I noticed when they turned around was that one of my favourite girls was crying so hard she could barely join in the song. I guess she set some of the other girls off, because by the end of the song, which is lovely, there were several red-eyed girls (and a few boys) in the crowd.
Then this adorable eighth grader got up and conducted (he’s really talented) the whole school through another song.
There were more tears, more bowing, and a final ‘Omedetou gozaimasu!’ (congratulations) and the ninth graders proceeded out of the gym. As they left, some in tears, I couldn’t help thinking about my own school graduation. Although it was a different level of school, the experience was very similar; leaving your friends, and the place that’s been like home for four years, to set off on your next big adventure. Kind of sad and exciting at the same time.
There was one final part of the graduation ceremony.
All the seventh and eighth graders, and some elementary school classes, formed a sort of armed guard leading from the school building, across the forecourt and out the gates.
As the ninth graders left the building, the band struck up and we clapped and cheered as the ninth graders left Daiichi as students for the last time. As they walked, lots of the girls and a few of the boys were in tears, and I was really touched when some stopped to wave or say goodbye to me.
I was holding it together until one of my favourite boys, the gorgeous and outrageous one who greeted me a few months ago with “Hannah sensei, kekkon shite kudasai!” (Hannah sensei, marry me please!), walked past crying unashamedly.
Damn, I’m really, really going to miss those kids.
If anyone had told me eight months ago that I would be genuinely upset about a group of 15 year-olds graduating school, I would have laughed most heartily.
And now here I am, sitting at my desk, definitely not crying.
But not exactly not crying either.