Graduation Goodbye Blues

As I’d mentioned in an earlier post, the school year here is beginning to wind down to its end a few weeks from now. The first major hurdle in that process was cleared last Friday with graduation.

Graduation last year didn’t really affect me all that much because I hadn’t taught any of the senior class. As an ALT, I don’t work with the twelfth graders, so I didn’t have much of an emotional connection to them. This year, however, was a vastly different story. I had seven months of teaching the graduating class when they were still eleventh graders, and though I didn’t have class with them, I helped a fair amount of them during their senior year with preparation for university entrance exams, from correcting countless mock essays to coming on holidays and staying after school to practice for interviews. Besides those academic aspects, I shared school festival, standing weekly lunch dates, and just general school life with them.

Also, only in Japan will you have half a dozen baseball players directing parking traffic. (And bowing as they do it.)
Also, only in Japan will you have half a dozen baseball players directing parking traffic. (And bowing as they do it.)

All of that translated to me getting pretty teary-eyed during the graduation ceremony. Though I was fine through most of the speeches and official ceremony, the end really got to me. Each of the homeroom classes stands and screams out a heartfelt “thank you” to their teachers. It might sound trivial, but a lot of the classes go beyond the simple “ありがとう ございます” and personalize it with a reference to a specific memory the homeroom shared.

At this point, many of the homeroom teachers, usually so stoic, break down and start to cry. (Yes, even the male ones.) And it’s easy to understand why. In Japan, the teachers advance through the grades with the students, so many instructors have been with the same kids for three years. That’s a long time to get attached.

It wasn’t just the teachers getting emotional, though. I spotted kids tearing up throughout the ceremony, and when they exited the gym after thanking their 先生 (sensei, teacher), a few of them let loose with sobs. That was the point at which I couldn’t help but get misty-eyed. If I get this choked up with kids I’d only interacted with for a year and a half, I predict that next year I will be an absolute wreck. I’ll have had that graduating class for two and a half years; already, I miss them during the longer vacations. Saying goodbye won’t be a picnic.

But graduation wasn’t all about the tears and sadness. After the ceremony, we returned to the teachers’ staffroom to find gifts waiting for us from the seniors’ parents.

Ooooh, a present!
Ooooh, a present!
...this is why I can never truly commit to clean eating. (The symbol stamped on the top is the emblem of our school.)
…this is why I can never truly commit to clean eating. (The symbol stamped on the top is the emblem of our school.)

That evening, the PTA threw a dinner party for all of the teachers at one of the nicest hotels in the city. This gives parents a chance to speak with the teachers who’ve helped their kids through their time at Aomori High School.

The senior homeroom teachers also thanked all of the parents.
The senior homeroom teachers also gave a speech about their time with the students.

I love the gesture of parents personally thanking the teachers, but this also translates to having every third bite of your smoked salmon or 焼きそば (yakisoba) being interrupted by a parent who wants to refill your wineglass and thank you for correcting their kid’s essays. I hadn’t taught the preceding graduation class, so no parents had felt the need to thank me. This year, though, I had a fair amount of parents approach me. I’m pretty easy to pick out of a crowd in Japan, so it was pretty safe for them to assume that I was the “Alex-sensei” that had been helping the kids. I felt pretty proud of myself for stumbling through the conversations in Japanese without offending anyone. (At least, I think I avoided any major gaffes…) And as this is the first time that many of the parents had seen me up close, I got the standard “Wow…you are tall!” as a greeting. Yes, yes, yes, I know. I am the freak Amazonian 外国人 (gaikokujin, foreigner).

All in all, it was a nice way to say farewell to the first group of students I taught. I just hope that I keep myself together next year…

And lastly, it wouldn’t be a winter blog post if I didn’t reference the weather in some way. Yes, it is March. In Aomori, that is still firmly winter’s territory. I know that I write about the insane amount of snow that Aomori gets fairly often, but it can sound like I’m exaggerating. Three feet of snow in one weekend? Impossible. Well, BBC recently covered the amount of snow Aomori has gotten this season, and it’s proof that I haven’t been blowing this out of proportion. Have a look if you’re interested…

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