March. It’s the month we’ve all been waiting for. For the first two we’ve been made to slur together four syllables whenever we say the date, helping to accentuate the feeling of being stuck in a slow, cold, muggy, dreary corner of time surrounded by space heaters and blankets, and looking like Joey from Friends when he wears every item of clothing Chandler owns. The word “march” is one of confidence and pride. It instils a sense of urgency and purpose into those who do it, and when the world reaches the 3rd month of the year it begins its march towards spring and summer. The cherry blossoms begin to appear, the days get lighter, the sun gets warmer, everyone gets a little bit happier and to top it all off, in Japan at least, it’s the end of the academic year. After a long, laborious struggle of exams and revision, evenings under the kotatsu and steaming pots of nabe, the students emerge from the proverbial tunnel and find that it’s spring, and that they have 6 weeks to enjoy it before they’re thrust back into the education machine to be plied and moulded into the perfect Japanese citizen.
Tuesday was the graduation ceremony for the 3rd years on their way to university or work. I don’t remember us ever having a graduation ceremony at school; one minute I was there every day of the week, the next I was skipping around Salisbury with a wicker basket in my hand and the wind in my hair, revelling in the feeling of freedom and personal choice. This feeling was only amplified by the fact that Wyvern College was a hell-hole full of bored, uninspiring teachers and delinquent students; a school where the ridiculous notion of “studying is gay” prevailed, and anyone who actually wished to learn anything more than how to give a great wedgie would be taunted and bullied until the end of his days. I was never inspired by any of my teachers and I believed that maybe this was just because I didn’t like school, but having been a teacher I can now confirm that, yes it takes a little more effort to make lessons interesting, but not a great deal more. Most of these teachers were just bone idle and incompetent, and it is entirely due to my own ambition and my parents’ unwavering support that I am not hanging around outside Spar dressed in a tracksuit and hoodie, smoking Lambert & Butler cigarettes and drinking Special Brew. Obviously these kids have had some incredible English lessons and doubtless, would rather stay at school forever, but in the words of any great Italian-American gangster, “whayagonnado?”
The stage was set, the brass band started playing the school anthem, and the 3rd years marched into the sports hall in single-file taking their seats near the front, lining up, and then bowing deeply before sitting. This went on for around 15 minutes until the front of the hall was filled with 300 or so 3rd year students and the school anthem had been played at least 6 times. After that we were treated with a couple of speeches, then every student was called out by name and one-by-one they had to stand up, say “HAI!” and bow deeply. Each time a whole subsection was standing, one representative from the group would come up to the stage bowing about 6 times on the way, receive a plaque, bow, turn and walk to the edge of the stage, bow to the audience, walk down the steps, turn to his left, bow, turn 90 degrees left, pause, turn 90 degrees left again, bow and then, finally, he would make his way back to his seat and his subsection would sit. During all of this, the speakers were churning out a cutesy little melody like we were all stuck in a Super Mario Brothers game having just been transported into a special level where there are cushions and bunnies everywhere, where you jump in slow motion, collect any number of the billions of extra lives lying around and the sun and the clouds all have smiley faces. This, coupled with the otherwise extreme formality of the event made for rather amusing viewing… Well… For 5 minutes anyway. When we reached an hour I was rather less amused, and had I not stayed up until 1am watching episodes of Boardwalk Empire on my laptop my eyes would probably have been rolling around in their sockets rather less than they were.
After a few more speeches it was done, and all the teachers raced to the back of the sports hall and clapped every student as they exited the sports hall. If you’ve ever clapped for 15 minutes solid you’ll know about the bruises, but it was worth it to see the smiles on their now grown-up faces. I thought it was a nice touch to be applauded to your teacher and, as I signed a bunch of yearbooks, I couldn’t help but feel a little jealous for the sense of freedom they must have been feeling. I had the very same feeling when I left school, left college, drove a car on my own for the first time, went to uni, graduated from uni, and went travelling the first time. After that it gets harder to obtain. How much freer can you get than when travelling the world for a year at your own pace with no expense spared? It’s difficult, and while I’m thoroughly looking forward to going back to the UK and getting stuck into my IT career, I can’t help but wonder about what the next big adventure will be.