March 9, 2001


Right now I'm feeling: Content/Depressed

Right now I'm listening to: Do As Infinity

Do As Infinity -- Tooku Made   

One of my favorite groups these days. Click on the Real icon to see a clip of one of their latest singles, brought to you by

The students standing one by one as their names are called.

The class representative receiving a stack of diplomas on behalf of his whole class

Posing for pictures after the ceremony

Some of my brightest and favorite students

Some of the same students their first year in junior high school


I can't help but think that graduation in Japan means less than it does in most other countries.

In most countries that I know of, you must actually pass all of your classes in good form before they let you walk down the aisle with pomp and circumstance playing. In Japan, all you need to do is show up… to the ceremony. You can fail every class, or simply not go to school at all, and still graduate.

But graduating junior high school in Japan isn't about learning, accomplishments, nearly so much as it's about the passing of a stage of life and separation of friends and acquaintances who spend far more time together than their American or European counterparts.

I've been looking forward and dreading this day for a long time. I am only at this school for a fourth of the time, but I've bonded with a number of the students. I mean, when they come to your desk every day you're there, and sometimes two or three times a day to talk, you get accustomed to having them around and even get to know them pretty well.

I was glad that I was at this particular school for the graduation ceremony. The worst and best kids of all of my schools are here. For some, I want the chance to say a proper goodbye and good luck, for others I just wanted to make sure that they were, in fact, leaving the school for good!

Teaching, like parenting, is a thankless job. I may look with fondness on the times I spent with those young people, but often they have their sights set on their friends and what lies ahead of them… I'm never sure what I mean to the students… until days like these.

When I'm standing outside and a student approaches me to say goodbye and shakes my hand, and I see it in their eyes, and hear it in their voice, then I know. When they introduce me to their parents and I see recognition in their parents' eyes brought from past conversations.

These past three years I always think that the next crop of students will never meet my expectations or meet up to the standards that I held the graduating students. Some do, some don't. I meet sisters or brothers of past excellent students who surpass or are shadowed by their older siblings. Some of my former students send letters every month, some who I thought would write never do.

And now, looking at the pictures I've got of these kids, makes me realize how much time has passed. It makes me feel old. And it's not like it's because they were taken 20 years ago or anything... it's just that I can see how much they've grown in the three years since I've been here. And looking at pictures makes any memory come back fresh and vivid.

I'll never forget the look of utter revulsion on Kaori's face when she tasted Dr. Pepper for the first time. I'll never forget how satisfied Ai was when she finally succeeded in teaching me how to make an origami crane. I'll never forget those long hours drilling Mariko in English pronunciation to prepare her for the English recitation contest or how victorious her eyes shone when she won. And dozens of others. I remember them all like they happened last week.

Sometimes I see my old students in passing on the streets or in the train. Maybe I'll hear my name shouted or screamed in a familiar voice from a distance. Occasionally I'll run into student whose name I remember, but doesn't remember mine!

I miss them. I wish them well. Whether or not they all remember me two, five or ten years from now. Because I know that at least some of them will remember me. Probably for the rest of their lives.

Teaching is a thankless job.. most of the time. But sometimes something happens or you get a letter or have a conversation that tells you that you've made a difference. A significant one, if only in a few students' lives. You've given them some knowledge. Or more importantly, some confidence. Some leverage. Some ambition or vision that no one had ever given them.

And they'll always remember
it was you who gave it to them.

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