As a child, I remember belting out the lyrics from Alice Cooper’s School’s Out Forever – “no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers dirty looks” – on the last day of each school year. I haven’t heard those words for a long time, but they come to mind now as I gaze nostalgically at the graduation pictures of both of our daughters – one who has just completed four years of University and the other who is only weeks away from completing grade 8.
And while there’s some excitement about having completed one more chapter of their lives and moving towards the next, I believe that for Chloe especially, the loss of what she’s leaving behind overshadows the excitement of what’s to come. Her apprehension about her segue into High School along with her sadness at leaving her familiar and safe school environment behind are reflected in her words: “Mom, after ten years at the same school, I feel like I’m leaving home and all my siblings behind.” Her words reminded me that transitions like the one from grade eight into High School can be challenging, difficult, frightening and sad.
For Chloe, there’s worry about her very closely knit group of friends becoming unravelled as they integrate into a much larger school environment with students from many other schools coming together. She knows it’s going to be different going from one new class to another, uncertain about which familiar faces she will see. In part she looks forward to increased independence but a bigger part of her wants to hold onto the familiarity of old friends and teachers who have become like extended family.
Along with thousands of other graduates, as Chloe prepares to make this bold leap into the world of High School, she is engaged in lots of closing rituals and preparations such as joining her friends for a tour of the new school and meeting new teachers to help bridge the gap. Graduation ceremonies and parties, signing year books, taking pictures of one another and taping a picture of the graduating class to her wall – all ways of saying goodbye and beginning to accept what is just around the corner.
The leap from grade eight into High School is perhaps one of the most dramatic. Perhaps because of the number of years that the children – now teenagers – have been in the same place and the relationships that they have developed as each child has undergone many changes. Graduating from senior kindergarten, while not as dramatic, may still be anxiety provoking for many. For some children, it means going from a half to a full day program, less play time and more structured work activities. Transitioning from High School to College or University requires great adjustment too. Then, it’s not just about one’s group of friends being diluted, but dealing with the loss of friendships as many journey to different cities and towns to pursue higher education. Suddenly, friends your children may have spent their entire growing up years with, are scattered. This again can certainly create feelings of loss, sadness and uncertainty.
So, if your child is a senior kindergartner, in grade eight, twelve or about to complete college or university, don’t be surprised to see changes in his or her behaviour or emotional tone around now. Normalize his or her mixed emotions and recognize that even during transitional celebrations, there are pangs of longing for what one has held so close and dear for so many years.