I felt oh so grown up on the first day of every school year but the real change took place when I started seventh grade.
My school, which loosely and arbitrarily followed the British education model, put great emphasis on the jump from elementary (first to sixth year) to secondary school. A small graduation ceremony was held in our honor at the end of our sixth year. My classmates and I proudly walked the stage and shook hands with the Head of Elementary. It was a modern-day coming of age ritual where we literally and enthusiastically waved goodbye to that chapter of our lives. As I crossed that stage, in front of emotional parents, relieved teachers and very young elementary students, I sensed that I was growing up. I shook hands with Mr. Brian – that, in itself was a privilege for he was a tall, serious man who ran his section of the school like a colonel commanding a mid-sized regiment. He had a full beard, kind eyes and was known to be unforgiving with tardy students. He was well-respected (or feared, to be honest). He told me he was very proud of me (I was quite the honor-roll nerd) and that I would do well in secondary school. I realized that I was leaving the safety of the classrooms and corridors that I knew, heading to a different world. The idea left me excited but also a little sad and apprehensive.
That different world happened to be in the same building.
The elementary and secondary schools were separated by a mere floor, but for years I was only used to walking up the first two flights of stairs to reach my classes. Now I had to take two more flights to get to the right floor! At the time, the steps leading up to the second floor seemed unfamiliar, unbelievably wide and steep. There were many recognizable faces, too – kids that I grew up with, my friends’ siblings, neighbors, girls from my swim team – but I was terrified. They were all grown ups whereas my classmates and I were fresh out of elementary. We were going to be at the bottom of that chain, an inconceivable thought after ruling the school for a year as the biggest, tallest, loudest kids around.
All my nervousness, however, did not dampen my spirits as I picked up my backpack on the first day of school and headed to the car. My mother fussed, trying to fix my hair and push a lunch box in my hand. I vehemently refused, stuffing my sandwich and juice into my book bag instead. I had no time to explain the concept of social suicide to her but I knew I had to fit in. I was a grown up and I had conform.