Just a thought before I go to bed.
If I said that this is something everybody experiences, I’d be lying. Not everybody graduates. Not everybody even has the chance to go to school.
So before I make the mistake of generalizing graduation for everyone, let’s say – everybody has experienced or will experience at one point in life something big coming to an end. Maybe it was something that provided a foundation for your life’s choices, something that gave a you a sense of security, a sense of direction. Maybe it was something that always there in some way, it doesn’t even have to be a good thing. It was simply always a large part of your life. And now it’s not.
When I graduated from primary school after sixth grade to go to lower secondary school (Swiss School System -> Look it up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bern#Education ) I remember a lot of crying. Well, the girls cried and the guys sat in the corner and pretended to be untouched by the whole scene. I had some tears in my eyes after a while because I realized that nothing would ever be the same after that day. I went home crying.
Then three years later I graduated from lower secondary school (up to ninth grade). There were no tears this time, to be honest I don’t remember how I said good bye to my friends I had in class, there weren’t many, after all. My best friend in school at the end of it was a rather rational girl. We promised to stay in touch and we did. For everyone else it was taking the next step to either secondary education or an apprenticeship – or living at home doing nothing. I left school that day in the knowledge that I would not be doing anything for my future in Switzerland. That summer we moved to Germany.
I suppose you could say that was also an end of an era. It was the end of many close and important friendships, though I’m still in contact with a few very good friends – my best friend J. for example and I don’t think it’s too bold to say that she will continue to be my friend for the rest of our lives. It was the first time leaving home and so soon after finally getting Swiss citizenship. And again I was a little rootless.
I started to visit ninth grade in Germany, because I didn’t feel ready to go through with secondary school heading towards my A-Levels yet. It was the right decision. Apparently they embrace chemistry, biology and physics in EVERY DETAIL in Germany, whereas in Switzerland it was all combined in one subject, which I found far more interesting, by the way.
Anyway, four years later I’m in year thirteen. I’ve had fourteen years of school, fifteen if you count pre-school (Kindergarten), (sixteen if you count the playgroup I visited beforehand, I absolutely hated it).
I am now nineteen years old (precisely 19 years, 12 days and well, right now, 8 minutes). According to my calculations (and after fourteen years of school I really hope it’s correct) that is about 68,5 % of my lifetime that some teacher has been educating me, telling me what to do, what to know, what to think (Until in year thirteen they suddenly demand of you to make your own choices, yet you will be punished for making the wrong one – smooth guys, real smooth). So that’s more than half, two-thirds or my life in school. Before that I don’t really remember anyway. Apparently I’ve been to Denmark and Paris, but generally I was simply keeping my mother from working after she’d endured a similar procedure once of working towards that one goal of being able to stand on her own two feet, then suddenly she was stemming six feet (neither of us have four or three feet).
Tomorrow is my first day of school after a two-week break.
For every other student below grade thirteen the term continues until the summer.
For us, it ends in three weeks.
Three weeks from now I will have had my last day of school…EVER.
It’s mind-boggling, I tell you!
Three weeks! Do you know how short three weeks are? Then I will not be in school anymore. Well, I’ll still have to show up for my two final exams and if I fail – I’ll have to repeat – but ideally this era will soon be over.
I’ve thought about what happens after that a few times.
All of the people I’ve come to know in my immediate environment will not be there anymore. They will be going off to live their lives, usually by their own choices, working or studying or volunteering in some other country.
My friends for example, when they finish school will aim for Hamburg, Munich, Ghana, New Zealand to give a few examples.
We will stay in touch for a while, but we will also find new friends and connections like I did when I moved to Germany in 2010.
There is this question, I’m sure it’s anything but uncommon: Everybody is going somewhere, but where do I stand?
Now there are different expectations from ourselves, our parents, our environment, society as to what we should do. But they all have one expectation in common, which is to make up our mind.
I think my parents aren’t all that bothered if I turn out to be a lawyer or a freelance writer or anything that isn’t all too illegal or opposing to what I stand for. But I know that they do want me to make a choice. My mother is a little more subtle about it, my dad did take me to the side once and tell me to know by the end of year thirteen what I wanted to do with my life.
And I don’t blame them.
The thing is – and yes, this is probably something you would refer to as a “first-world problem” – all this time I’ve been told what to do. There have been rules on how to write an essay, how to solve an equation and subconsciously we have learnt how to please the teachers. We have lived in constant awareness that we were being graded, not only on our achievements, but on the frequency of hands going up, our social behaviour – or well, the behaviour we present to meet the social standards in the classroom. Rascals are punished with bad marks, warnings and the fact that they tend to be less favoured by teachers.
The point of education is not only to teach us what good old Pythagoras thought of a triangle or how Hitler managed to rise to power so fast, but to shape us into a model. The product is spat out after graduation in hope that it will conform with society. Of course, we are encouraged to find our talents and cultivate our individual skills, but only within this OK-area that we are produced for over the years.
This may seem like an odd comparison, but think of what you wanted to do when you were a young child before you were pushed through school, then think of you want now or what you have become.
Me, I wanted to be a detective, an actress, a writer – but for different reasons that today – and, yes, I admit it, a princess and the wife of Orlando Bloom, dressed up as Will Turner.
And today I know I want to be a writer, I want to work in theatre, I want to be an advocate for human rights, I want to save the world. But I am not active about it, because I know that it is not a realistic way to go. Whenever I think of anything remotely realistic – meaning that the path is already laid out for you, half-guaranteeing you success in any case – I am almost relieved and ready to go for it, because it is easy, because that’s what society has prepared for you, because it’s a path that many have chosen before you.
I don’t believe that we are raised to be brave. We are raised to be courageous in the right moment – to stand up and fight for our country when they think to have found oil somewhere – or to find the courage to drive a car. But not to be brave as in standing up to the authorities, to your superior (in my case, teachers), fighting for what we really truly believe in as there is a majority that is right, so we will most likely be wrong. Also, we are not supposed to be brave enough to pave our own way to get to an ideal place we have envisioned for ourselves. If we were meant to go our own way – as in the path that we wish we could follow, not the one we usually choose because it easy – there would not be so many obstacles; social ones, financial ones, there would not be “heroes” who made it despite all the odds that were set against them, as a hero is someone extraordinary. Therefore the ordinary is to follow the path that has been laid out for us.
So – where am I going with this?
That is a good question. This quick thought has turned into a rather long one. So I will use that as a transition.
All this time I have been given a goal. I was given the goal of graduation. It’s not much of a goal, I have to admit. It’s not like I’ve achieved anything until now. Any achievement I have ever reached, any discovery I have made was laid out for me beforehand by the ministry of culture and all those people who control the institution.
Now I have the chance to choose my own goal. I have the chance to make my own achievements.
The question is; will I choose the path of the brave or that of comfort?
There is the option of studying something useful – useful to society and the economy that is, not meaningful – or there is the option of potentially wasting my time on some wild experiment that may or may not pay off some day.
And even though I’ve been moaning this entire post, I’m glad to have the choice now. I have no idea what to do with it, but I am – in Jean-Paul Sartre’s words – condemned to freedom…but I’m happy about it.