Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Sunday, March 18, 2012

そつぎょう:graduating the Japanese way.

On Friday, the day which my kids have been working towards for the last three years (since they joined Johen Junior High) finally arrived - it was time for graduation. Whereas my high school graduation was a pretty low-scale affair (the real graduation pomp not really coming until I left university last year), the Japanese are never inclined to let such milestones slip under the radar without a celebratory fanfare.

What most took me aback about the day was not simply the scale of the event - complete with a live orchestra, and at least five different speakers taking to the stage to address the graduating students - but how emotional the whole display was. When the departing Head Boy took to the stage to deliver his farewell speech (to a heartbreaking piano accompient), he did so through floods of tears - on more than one occasion, he had to stop to catch his breath he was crying so hard. Poor kid, I just wanted to run up to the stage and give him a hug! But he wasn't the only one... teachers, parents and students alike were all looking on in equally distraught states. It reminded me of my own graduation, when I was reduced to a similarly snotty, crying wreck. 

As sad as the official ceremony was, there was time for happiness afterwards when the third year students made their last rounds of the school. Waiting for them to leave, I gathered with the other teachers and remaining students outside the school. It reminded me of the final scene in Grease where everyone forms a human tunnel either side of Danny and Sandy as they ride off into the sunset. Ready and waiting, all that was left was for the graduating students to parade out, one by one, as we said our final "おもでとう"s ("congratulations!"). Gladly, there were no tears in sight this time, as the students high-fived the friends they were leaving behind and shook their teachers' hands. I took the opportunity to say goodbye to the students I'd taught for the past seven months and wished them all the best for the future. I caught up with the Head Boy as well (now dry-eyed and smiling) and made sure to shake his hand and congratulate him on his speech. Then, just like that, they were gone. Off into the same uncertain, scary-exciting future that brought me here. 

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