This Monday marks 30 years since I walked out of the school gates for the last time.
I remember, on November 20, 1987, the first seniors from my high school graduated, and one of the students who regularly submitted a column for the school newsletter, remarked that it would be the last time that the seniors would be together, possibly forever. And I remember on every day that the seniors graduated, students would muck up, and they would take for sale signs from nearby houses and put them out the front of the school. That was relatively harmless, and anybody who wanted to involve the authorities should have been told, “Okay, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll go to the school and say, “Look, we know you’re excited that it’s your last day, but what we ask, is that you return the signs to the properties from where you got them, and no further questions will be asked,” and then to the property owners, “Okay, they will be returned, but when they are, don’t say anything.””
I remember my last day at school was one of mixed emotions. Like Nick Earls described in a coming of age novel, with the character of Alex Delaney, for the previous twelve years, he knew that at the end of each summer holiday, he would start a new year of school, but after Year Twelve, there was uncertainty. Would you be able to get into the university course that you wanted? There was no Year Thirteen at school. Okay, with Prep replacing pre-school, and being compulsory, and six years of primary school and six of high school, there now are thirteen years, all up. I didn’t have a lot of friends at school, so I wasn’t missing anyone. But I was sad and happy that school was over.
Looking back, I can now see that I was in burnout as I left school. After four and a half months of the second semester, of school, where, for the previous two years, I had sacrificed evening television and weekends and my marks showed it had been worth it, I was tired. I was pleased that on November 13, when I arrived home, I could tidy my room and listen to some music while relaxing on my bed. My father took my brother for a game of golf and my mother asked me to ring my father’s mobile, just for the heck of it.
The next day would involve a trip to a theme park, albeit reluctantly from me. My mother said, “But you’ve got to go.” I remember the Year Co-Ordinator came and reminded us the Friday before that we had to pay by the following Monday. I was exhausted and just wanted to get school over and wasn’t even halfway through my exams. That weekend, while my family went to book a sit at a caravan park for the week before Christmas, I was studying for Math, Economics and Japanese exams. Japanese was on Monday, Math Tuesday morning and Economics Tuesday afternoon.
I remember, on the Monday, I said to my mother, “Okay, I’ll take the money and go, but I’m coming back on the early bus.” “All right.” I carefully chose my activities, which included driving replica Model T Fords (they had small wheels underneath that connected to a track), rode on a few trains, and a paddle steamer. On one of the trains, they had actors who played Ned Kelly and his gang. And, I ended up ringing my mother and saying, “I’m having a better time down here than I thought I would be.” “I’m glad about that.” “So, is it okay if I stay until 5 o’clock, please?” “Yes.” When I arrived home, my mother said that she was glad that I stayed down there.
For me, the upcoming school reunion doesn’t represent a chance to say, “Oh, I’m in this role,” or, “I’m in that role,” rather it represents a chance to remember that we all went through our last year of school together, 30 years ago, and to see how we are. If we take Australia’s ANZAC Day as an example, after the Last Post and the minute’s silence, it’s the one day of the year when two-up (no, not the fingers, they put two coins onto a flat stick and they toss them and you call which side they’ll have facing upwards when they land, and you can bet on them) is legal, and a few old diggers have a few beers. Remembrance Day is not a public holiday in Australia.
We are like the old diggers. We can get together to remember a few of us who are no longer with us, and remember who we were and the way we were, and hopefully, resolve to do it every five or ten years.
But I’ve come through those thirty years, semi-scathed, but I’m still here.