Friday, February 7, 2014

The Second Graduation

My flight touched down at the Gimhae airport a little before 8:30am this morning. After two weeks of backpacking, it's good to be ba-- wait. Hold on. It's 4°C outside and raining. This was a mistake. TAKE ME BACK TO THAILAND.

Well, my flight touched down a little before 8:30am this morning, and truthfully, that was the latest possible time I could have afforded to return. You see, my school's graduation ceremony was to begin at 10:00am. I had exactly ninety minutes to take a bus back to my city, taxi home, change out of my tropical-weather shorts and t-shirt into something warm and respectable, and speedwalk to school. No time even for a shower. But I managed to leave my apartment at five past ten, camera in hand.

I ran into my homestay father just outside the gates and we walked into the auditorium together, just minutes before they began calling the names of the 113 graduates this year. I was sitting rather far away, but tried snapping photos of my students as they crossed the stage and received their diplomas. As dazed as I was from having traveled 3500 miles in the past 15 hours, it made me smile to see them in their caps and gowns. Most of them had gotten fresh haircuts and perms, ears pierced, eyelids reshaped, the usual. I wasn't even shocked, since I saw the same thing last year.
A scholarship or prize awarded to the four students who were accepted to Seoul National University.
After the roll call, the distribution of special prizes and scholarships, and a speech by the principal(1), there was a special video by the class captains and some teachers. Also, the school choir performed a song as a thank you to their teachers... something about the sky and rainbows and never forgetting a kindness shown.
Most of the choir is graduating, as you can see! I hope they can continue next year; they sounded wonderful.
Then, the ceremony was over and everything descended into mad chaos for photos, just like graduation is supposed to be! I snagged a few of my favorite students for photos, but there was no way I'd be able to catch them all. When I did manage to have a brief conversation in between their being pulled away for more selcas(2), I asked them, "So how do you feel right now?"

"Awesome," they said.
"Nervous."
"Happy, but also sad."
"Nice."
"Exciting."(3)

And MG said to me, "Well, I don't know. Right now, I don't have any feelings, but I think later, when I think about it, it will be amazing."

And I said to all of them, "Congratulations. I'm very proud of you. Come back to visit, okay?"
The 33 graduating third-years, plus their peers who graduated (early) last year and returned today for a long-awaited reunion. I chatted happily with my old students; they were ecstatic that everyone in their original matriculating class was finally moving on to the next big thing. Alas, I had forgotten many of their names and faces...
It hasn't hit me yet that this was the last time I'll see many of them. I might not be around for graduation next year, when they'll return to reunite with their eight peers who are to move on to the third grade. So how could I say goodbye? I simply didn't. I hope my former students do find me on Facebook or Kakao, actually, because this group was really something special, and I want to keep in touch. And those are all my feelings right now.
My homestay sister graduated today! And she's off to one of Korea's finest universities. I'm very proud of her.
- - -
(1)  Which I didn't understand, but was likely about how proud he was that 90% of the second-year students are graduating early and going to really great schools -- I don't have the actual statistics, but I'll get my hands on a program later.
(2) 셀카/Konglish for "selfie"
(3) Eh, this grammar problem will never go away...

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