Today was the last day of school. I've anticipated this day with much trepidation. While I have been completely exhausted by this semester, the end of the school year means much more than summer break. It means a lot of good-byes.
Growing up in the US, I remember every year being a little sad that a friend or two was moving away. Today we said good-bye to 65 students, nearly 20 percent of our school population. We also said good-bye to eight wonderful teachers and several of their family members. People we've laughed with, cried with, and slaved with. :-) People we've come to love in such a short space of time, and yet feel as though we've known them forever. 10 months is not enough time. We've also said a short-time good-bye to another 70% of our staff as most of them will be headed to their home countries for the summer or working on their masters in Beijing. It's going to be awfully quiet around here the next few months.
So as I awoke this morning to a chilly breeze and a threatening storm, I wondered if others felt the twists in their stomachs like mine. Remembering my own last days of school, I felt as though I should feel happy, relieved, enjoying the complete a (fairly) successful school year. I thought that when I entered the campus, I would catch the excited nerves of hundreds of students ready for a few months of rest. Instead, a quiet undertone seemed to haunt the school. And to rolling thunder, students said tearful good-byes to loved friends they may never see again.
As students were exiting the school, I sat in the lobby watching them leave, saying a few last good-byes and trying to return many abandoned art projects from my classroom to their owners. For forty minutes a small group of 7th and 8th grade girls clung to each other in front of me and cried. They started crying yesterday at our good-bye ceremony, and I'm not sure they ever stopped. Some cried openly, others hid their faces as tears would not stop. My heart broke for them, aching to say something to make it all better. And yet there was nothing to say. Nothing to make it seem alright.
Among the good-byes, I signed several yearbooks. One of a student who just joined our school halfway through fall semester. He and his family came with a four year contract, settled into our school, and prepared to spend the next few years with those around them. Unfortunately, through a turn of events they are headed back to the States after just eight months here in Qingdao. The news of him leaving shocked everyone when it broke two months ago. Here was a kid with wonderful talent, eager to learn, confident with those around him, and a dream student. Someone I had laughed with too many times to count and dreamed with about how to build our art program at the school. One of those rare students that inspires a teacher to be the best that they can be, and makes their fellow students strive to be better. I struggled with what to write. What should my final words to him be? Finally, I realized the truth. No matter how short the time, I have been blessed to have met him, to have taught him for nearly a school year. I hope in the future I may meet his family again, but no matter what, I will remember the good times we laughed together.
Because life is short, and we never know how long we're going to get to spend with someone. This is only exemplified in an international school. Sometimes we get months of notice, sometimes a week, sometimes, a day. With homes all over the world, it is likely we will never meet again. But we are blessed with the time we are given, and that is what we should remember.