US rocker Alice Cooper’s song School’s Out perfectly captured the feeling of finishing school with the immortal lyrics: “school’s out for summer, school’s out forever”. It played on high rotation in my head as I saw videos of Mountain Creek State High students celebrating their last day of school by plunging into the waves at Mooloolaba Beach.
Seeing them celebrating, arms around each other, school shirts rebelliously torn open, brought a tear to my eye. Their faces shone with glee, as though the waves washed away the past 13 years of their lives and cleansed them, ready for the next stage.
I always well up a little seeing school-leavers celebrate this important rite of passage, which can be imbued with a mix of emotions: relief, sadness, melancholy, excitement, fear. A massive chunk of their lives is over and it’s the end of an era. An era that starts when they can’t tie their own shoelaces and ends with them fully grown.
How we feel about school ending depends on so many factors: whether we liked our school, whether we got good grades or struggled, whether we had friends or were bullied, whether we stayed in the same school or had to move and make new friends. Whether we had teachers who inspired us or shouted at us.
Most of us had at least one teacher who went the extra mile to peer into our souls and work out who we really were and what we really needed from them. Teachers who weren’t just going through the motions. Teachers who genuinely cared. Those kinds of teachers can change a child’s life.
But school is not the be all and end all. There are many pathways to success and getting good grades at school is just one of them. Personally, I’m more concerned with my children’s emotional and mental wellbeing at school than I am with how many As, Bs, Cs or Ds they get. To see my 14-year-old walk off happily to school each morning, knowing he truly belongs, is way more important to me than his report.
And I think this is why that last day of school makes me cry. That sense of belonging is going to change. When we go to school, it’s the first time in our lives we belong to a tribe outside our family and that tribe is going to break apart. Some may keep their school friends throughout life, but most will lose touch as they grow older and have families and see their own children start school. There’s a touch of sadness mixed in there with all that ecstasy.
And Alice Cooper was only half-right when he sang “school’s out forever”. Sure, they may not have to front up to the classrooms anymore, but school is never really out because we are all students in the school of life and the day we stop learning is a very sad day indeed.
Enjoy your moment Year 12s – you’ve earned it. But remember, finishing school is just the beginning.