Graduation

Note: I make no claims for the possible entertainment value of this editorial. In fact, there may be none.

I went to the sannensei’s graduation. Back in America, junior high school graduation is no big deal. In fact, most of us were pretty happy to get the hell out of there. The same held true for high school too. Some person, in their infinite wisdom, chose Sarah MacLaughlin’s “I Will Remember You” as our graduation song. Bah. I still say the person responsible for that should be imprisoned with no hope of parole. We all ad-libbed it anyway, so the result was a graduating class of about 400 seniors bitterly singing, “I WON’T remember you. And you WON’T remember me.” Yeah, we were a tight-knit bunch.

In Japan, it’s a big deal. These kids are all going to different high schools, and for the past three years this has been their lives. Seriously, they probably spend more time at their Jr. High Schools than they do at home. So it’s quite a change for them, and graduation is taken seriously as such.

If you ever find yourself in a Japanese graduation ceremony for some reason, be prepared for a lot of crying.

This is one crying culture I have to say. It seems like every TV show is built upon making the viewer cry at some point. They love showing touching human drama stories on the variety shows, and then as soon as the story is finished, they cut to the celebrities watching, and make sure to get them crying on camera. Some shows don’t even wait – they do a picture in picture of the celebrity watching, so you can see them crying as the story unfolds. There’s a show on Monday evenings starring a member from SMAP (Goro, if you are familiar with them), who hosts little kids (elementary schoolers) and tells them ghost stories designed to freak the holy shit out of them. Every episode has them at recoiling in horror at least twice, and crying over some touching ghost story. How much is this fucking them up? Seriously. I oftentimes wonder how the men and women of this country get to be so fucked up, but then I see shows like this and I don’t wonder so much anymore.

So graduation is more or less designed for crying. They call the students’ names and hand out certificates while playing some sad violin music in the background. After a few speeches from the appropriate figureheads, the new student body president (in this case, a ninensei girl) gets up and gives the sannensei a farewell speech. Then, the old student body president also gives a farewell speech. Now, I’ve heard a lot of graduation speeches in my day, even given one of my own, but the sannensei girl’s speech that day was awesome. Seriously one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. I really wanted to stand up and applaud or cheer or something, but of course in Japan that’s not allowed. An emotional outburst like that is simply unacceptable. Except for crying, you are allowed to cry a whole lot. I decided to pass on that.

Then, the sannensei were supposed to sing a farewell song. Of course, it is one of those “thanks for the warm memories and goodbye” songs designed to – guess what? – make you cry. But before that, this particular sannensei class had a surprise. I’d seen them practicing this before the ceremony. They all turned, faced the crowd, and in a chorus speech, thanked their parents, teachers, and friends for everything over the past three years. Of course, they barely got through this without crying. This isn’t a regular part of the ceremony, and having been hit with such a pleasant surprise, the teachers and parents got to crying, too.

The sannensei sang their song, while crying, then left the gym. However, the school band, instead of playing them out with Pomp and Circumstance, played a current popular song, ironically titled “No More Cry.” This, of course, made them cry harder.

Afterwards was picture time, and I’m happy to report that by then, all the tears had become smiles. I came out for picture time as well – I really liked this particular sannensei class, and wanted to get some pictures of my own, as well as say goodbye properly. My friend Snuzzlebunnies found me quickly, and of course wanted a picture. I wanted a picture, too, because she is one of my favorite students. So we asked another student to take some with her camera and mine. First was hers. Like she always does, she hugged onto my arm tightly. I’ve gotten used to that by now, so no big deal. *Click*

For the second picture, with my camera, she let go of my arm. Before I can feel relieved though, she said, “Put your hand on my shoulder.” Well, that’s not so bad, right? I did so, in the same manner you’d pat a buddy on the back. This, however, wasn’t what she had in mind. “More,” she said as she took my hand and pulled it down across her chest.

Oh no. Not again.

My immediate first thought was, “Holy shit, those feel like boobs. Again.” Having learned my lesson from the first time, I didn’t grab or squeeze anything for confirmation, just basked in ignorance and smiled as the picture was taken. Later, when I checked the picture on my camera, sure enough, there I was, happily smiling as I’ve got my hand across her chest.

I AM NOT A PEDOPHILE.

Side Note: I was later telling a female Japanese friend of mine about this and the Snuzzlebunnies incident. She laughed and said “But you were happy, right?” NO I WAS NOT HAPPY! I’m not a Japanese man. I don’t have lolicom, or “lolita complex,” the name given to the far too common Japanese male predilection for Jr. High and High School girls. I told you the men in this country weren’t right.

I realized that picture is the only one of us I have (just the two of us. I do have a group photo), so now for the rest of my life anytime someone looks at my pictures I’ll have to explain why I have my hand across a 15-year old girl’s chest and appear to be enjoying it.

And with that, the sannensei were gone. I may run into them from time to time, but no longer am I their teacher, no longer do we get to have class together, cultural exchange talks, English games, and all the rest. They were an awesome class, and I can honestly say I’m going to miss them.

I will remember you.

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