It’s the final day at school for our S6 pupils tomorrow- and many from S5 too. A strange calm has descended on the school; traditionally the last day has witnessed practical jokes and general mayhem as they celebrate the end of an era. But beneath the increasing collective delirium you can clearly see a panic in some of their eyes. Not the panic of impending exams; it’s a slow realisation that they won’t be coming back here in August. And, while every kid dreams for much of their time at school, ‘when can I leave?’, they don’t all seem overjoyed by the prospect.
More than anything you begin to see the reality of their relationships with school. Despite the often harsh exteriors, young people do eventually realise the huge role school plays in their lives, even as a physical structure. In speaking to these guys this week, I see that they are often relieved, often scared, often confused by their impending departures; but they are looking at their school and their teachers in a more affectionate light. They no longer need to attend classes; they no longer need to play a subservient role. We begin to treat them as adults and they begin to become adults. Many I spoke to today were pupils from last year who studied “The Catcher in the Rye’ with me. Completely unprompted, they told me of their increased understanding of Holden Caulfield and what he was going through. His fear of disappearing as he stumbled into the world of adulthood; his inability to comprehend that he was coming to the end of something that had protected him forever. These young people had a mature and steely determination about their futures but it was tinged with a fear in their eyes, a fear of the unknown. Holden saw the world outside school, the world of adults, as ‘phony’ and something to be avoided. But, given some responsibility, he realised things would be fine. These guys will too.
Since they were four or five, their lives have been controlled by bells; by corridor rules; by uniformity. And the safety and comfort in that is something they only being to understand when it is gone. We discuss leaving school and I tell them, according to former pupils, they will feel it hardest in August when they see younger brothers and sisters leaving for school, or wonder why they have no where to go until University. They will miss us. And we will miss them. There’s little that touches this week for me: seeing the end product of our secondary education system.
We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t take time to appreciate this moment. Thirteen years of school brought these young people to this point. We have played a pivotal role in their development but it is time for them to move on. Like Holden watching his sister, Phoebe, going round and round on the carousel, it is their turn. Many of them may cause me to fight back a tear to two tomorrow; others certainly won’t miss me. But I wish them all well. Just don’t let them disappear. Please Holden, don’t let them disappear.