Goodbye Junior High

In late February, I had my last classes with the third graders at my junior high. It wasn’t the most perfect ending. I assumed that I would have one more class with each section, so I didn’t prepare a nice little motivational speech. Fortunately, the school held a farewell ceremony for them a few Fridays ago. I could say my last goodbyes, kinda.

I could feel that they were the school seniors on that day. The ones who would joke around in class were surprisingly more serious. After taking entrance exam after exam after exam, the results were in. Decisions were made. Some got into their high school of choice, some didn’t. Some others were taking their spring break to focus on their studies. Then apply to get into a better school soon. In a society where education is all about what you know on exam day, I can see why some would take this third option. Needless to say, it was one of those “ish is getting real” moments. A bittersweet time.

Although I never went to a junior high, I know that graduation feeling. I felt it in eighth grade at middle school graduation. This was before social networking had started to explode. All my friends (aka the few nerds I wrote raps with during lunch) were going to different high schools. We had AIM, but eventually we would change and grow away from each other. (We were in totally different environments, being influenced by our new ninth grade peers.) My other classmates, crushes, and band mates, I assumed I would never see again. It was a real sayonara. I was heading off alone to a prep school way outta my comfort zone. Being around those kids who cracked on my shape-up and “white” speech every single day felt more comfortable than what I was about to face. I’m sure my third graders feel the same way. Going from being somebody in a mid-size school to a fish in the ocean called high school. At least they all live in the same area, and have Facebook.

“Eric! Sign, onegaishimasu!”

At lunch a few students rushed at me with their yearbooks. A few minutes later a whole crowd formed around me. I rushed in freehand, trying to think of a short and unique message for each of them. Something deep and motivational. But it was difficult to keep in the parameters of the grammar structures they had already learned. No time. The next period would be starting soon. I gave up trying to simplify my English. They could Google translate my message later.

To make things worse, I didn’t know any names besides the handful of students who came to talk to me during break time. I tried to feign remembrance by asking the students how to spell their names when addressing the message. Acting as if I already knew them, “First letter is M, yes?” I hope they didn’t notice my embarrassment. But what can one do? I’ve taught a 1000+ different kids in my time here. 500 on any given week. I’m trying.

I reminisce back to my yearbook toting days. The H.A.G.S., fancy signatures, inside jokes. It always took a little courage to ask someone to sign my yearbook. It’s like saying, “Hey, I think you’re awesome and worth remembering.” Whenever someone asked me I felt a little special inside. That there was something about my personality that the asker did not want to forget. Even if I wrote something as simple as, “Have a great summer!” years later that handwritten quote could inspire all different kinds of memories within the reader. Once a year or so, I’m drawn to my shelf of yearbooks. I pick one from middle or high school, and fall into a time long gone. The quotes, pictures, and outdated fashion styles remind me of how much I have changed over the years. Sometimes I forget about this Universal constant: change. I forget how much has happened to me, all the experiences that shaped the person I am today. It’s difficult for me to acknowledge all the small steps that go into making my big visions a reality. So often I’m faced with the feeling that I haven’t made much progress at all. I just want to be where I want to be Now! Taking a trip back in time with my yearbook time machine put things back in perspective and helps me come to terms with the process. Things just don’t happen overnight.

Taking these trips back in time also remind me of something else: the little things don’t matter. Just thinking about all the dumb things I may have bickered over with friends and family. All the time wasted on Myspace, or the nights I stayed up dwelling on puppy love crushes…None of these things ever make it into the pages of a yearbook. Over time, these little events won’t even survive deletion from my memory banks.

—————–

Towards the end of the farewell ceremony the teachers presented a photo slideshow documenting all three years of the graduating class’ experiences. Having only been there for their final year, I got to see them grow up in a matter of twenty minutes. Ten minutes into the slideshow I began to daydream. My thoughts filled with nostalgia of my own preteen life. It was like opening an old yearbook again.

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