can't help but think that graduation in Japan means less than
it does in most other countries.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
I'm never sure what I mean to the students
until days like these.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
they'll always remember
it was you who gave it to them.