Wednesday, April 6, 2011

(6) March 16: Graduation Ceremony

I haven’t mentioned it before but I work at a vocational school. In Japan, the schools open on April and they close on March. Our planned graduation ceremony was for March 14th but because of the rolling blackouts and the ongoing disorder in the train network, the date was postponed for March 16th.

Almost half of this year’s alumni were from abroad and among these, about half always said that after their graduation they wanted to stay and work in Japan. After the earthquake/tsunami disaster and the accident in the nuclear plant though, their families expressed great concern about such a prospect so one by one they started returning to their home countries. Almost the same happened with the students expected to start attending our school on April: more and more cancellations were coming in every day and rumors started circulating that people who went to their embassies for advice on what to do were promptly given aeroplane tickets so they could leave Japan immediately.

Because the planned number of participants was cut in half, the graduation ceremony gave out an air of sadness. Twice during the ceremony we felt the tremors of aftershocks and some of the students were alarmed but the teachers’ calmed and composed behavior alleviated their fears and at the party that followed, because of the shortage of available goods and because of the blackouts, we couldn’t offer the students something more substantial –like a pizza or a sandwich- so we had to make do only with snacks. All of these, though, didn’t bend the overall disposition of the students; they all seemed to truly enjoy the ceremony and even the ones who had to return to their countries greeted us saying “I don’t want to leave –I’ll be back soon” and “I will tell my compatriots that Japan is alright and that I will return”.

The concluding speech was given by a student from Bangladesh. “Each and every one of us who are here at this moment, love Japan and this school,” he said. “At this moment, Japan truly needs the power of the young people. If all of us, the foreigners who have to return to their homes and the Japanese, stay here instead and together try our best, we will manage to help this country. I, with everyone’s help, will protect Japan”. After that, he asked we should all keep a moment’s silence and pray for Japan. I think that at that moment, we all felt that this speech bonded us together –standing there, with our palms pressed together and with closed eyes, thinking about the victims of the disaster and about our future, we were all the same.

I can’t really know what everyone else wished or prayed for; my mind was filled with wishes for the future of these kids, be they here in Japan or abroad, and for the people who are suffering right here, right now.

Toyama Atsuko

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