The school where I work is saying goodbye, this week, to another sixth form year group, as the class of 2016 head off into study leave, exam season and beyond.
And of course, we're going to miss them. Goodbyes are said, with the usual mixture of a few tears and an awful lot of laughter. Leavers' pranks, or #antics as our students like to call them, are as inevitable as the arrival of 'exam weather' and hayfever season. The sixth form study supervisor's desk (not to mention her computer and all her stationery) has been wrapped in tinfoil. The Head Boy and Head Girl have been unceremoniously deposited in the school pond. Condiment misuses have been widespread. But for every student prank and every moment of grown-up exasperation, there have been goodbyes, tea parties and moments when weary teachers have known that the confident young adults, whom we first met as slightly nervous eleven-year-olds in September 2009, have liked school, listened to us at least a bit, and are actually going to miss the place.
Our leavers fly the nest on 10th May. Three years ago, on 10th May, I attended a class reunion in my old school. I'm not going to say how many years it marked, and I hadn't seen most of my classmates in the meantime. It was a fantastic evening of rekindled friendships and happy reminiscing, and most of all, of laughter. Gathered in our now-much-posher school canteen (they now call it a restaurant!), we swapped old stories, updated one another on our lives, marvelling at how much some had changed, and how little others had. Someone told me that they hadn't recognised me at all at first, but once we started talking they realised I was just as they remembered. Before hometime, a few of us wandered around the old school corridors and courtyards, the ghosts of time and people past quite palpable in the chilly breeze...
Afterwards, in an almost sleepless night, I realised I'd learned a lot on my one evening back in school. I wished I'd had the confidence to throw myself into #antics as well as study, away back then - but then again, I'm still the person who worried about getting told off as my classes and I had coffee and chocolate in their final lessons rather than me herding them through just one more past paper like some kind of academic sheepdog. These are the students who were born during my first year teaching in their school. As I look back at them, three years on from my own night of nostalgia, I'd tell them a few last things as they drift off, joyful, into the May twilight to celebrate their Leavers' Night, their laughter echoing through our corridors and courtyards as they go.
Yes: there's a point to everything you learned. You may not ever need grammar, tectonics, quadratic equations, the fine points of the Catechism, or a knowledge of irregular French verbs. But you'll always need to learn, and you'll always need that openness to learning which only having learned can bring.
Yes: there's a point to all those things you didn't want to do. Monday morning Assembly in the winter months in a glacially cold Hall. The queue for the canteen. Punctuality. Homework. Confiscated phones. Prefect duties; walking on the left; all those rules about uniform, hair and make-up. You'll always have to do stuff you don't much like. It might be part of those great careers we hope you will all have; it might just be part of life. You will survive.
Keep your sense of fun. It's not just about #antics, though the cat-and-mouse of the final days, and of the previous seven years, have kept your teachers' ageing brains alert. There was the time someone decided to model a mankini in English class; the determination of the sophisticated adult students to spend their final afternoon together playing on bouncy castles; the lunchtimes, the stories about formals and nights out... and so much more. This particular year group has gone from triumph to tragedy and back again, supporting one another alongside our attempts to support you. The determination and the love of life shown even when the very worst things happened have been inspiring for everybody who knows you. You've learned what life is like as well as learning for the qualifications to help you make a living. Keep that spirit: it will get you through the very best and the very worst you'll face as the years go on.
You're not all the same. Yes: there are lots of separate groups of friends. You might wonder where you fit. And that is fine. My class reunion taught me that my teenage worries about not quite fitting in were groundless. I didn't fit the mould, but I found a niche with those like-minded people whom I still count as my friends - and that pattern's still the same. Years later, going back to school, I felt unexpectedly at home; let's hope that the class of 2016, and all our leaving classes as the years roll past, will always feel at home with us, whether they return or just remember.
So 'Build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung'. Remember your learning; remember your #antics; remember it all.