Talk about Jessica as an emotional wreck.
Combine the arrival of three family members (whom I have not seen for 294 days); the departure of a couple dozen freshmen (whom I will likely not see again this side of heaven); some of the most difficult piano pieces I've ever attempted to learn (as I am a pianist for the weekend's programs); and the thought that the entire senior class will march into the church, grab faux black leather bound folders, and march out of my life forever... yep. Jessica Stotz = emotional basket case.
The fam arrived on Wednesday night, and slept much of Thursday - which wasn't very exciting anyway - in an attempt to recover from jetlag. Friday was where the hecticism (not a word, but it fulfills its purpose) began. Marching rehearsals, cleaning, rounding up the family for meals, more rehearsals, a surprise birthday party, and a surprise departure of a senior. Up down up down up down. I was literally running across campus. Whew.
Post-vespers was a treat, however. Tucked away in my family's half-dozen checked bags was a package worth its weight in gold: Fancy brand string cheese from the Burnett Dairy Co-op in Alpha, Wisconsin.
*moment of silence*
I opened up the package of squeaky, creamy white morsels and laid them out on a plate to share with the girls in the dorm. A few rolled their eyes at my repeated explanation of the cheese ("This is cheese from my home. Real cheese. World Championship cheese. This cheese was judged best in the world. Eat this cheese. This cheese will heal all ills. Alexander the Great asked for this cheese on his death bed. Michael Phelps eats this cheese before every competition. Behold the cheese."), but rave reviews popped up again and again, along with "Can I have another? Pleeeeeeease. Just one. This cheese is amazing!"
If I've done nothing else in Kenya, I've introduced East Africans to the best cheese in the world. Yes. I do believe this is the first time Fancy brand cheese has been transported to Ongata Rongai, Kenya. I'll now be expecting a commission for every African sale.
Then it was Sabbath. More family meal round-up, more piano pieces, more button-bursting pride looking at my senior friends in their teal and silver regalia, more emotions (mostly happy ones). A concert for the parents was planned for the afternoon, which posed a little bit of concern for Jessica Mae. Two freshmen members of the percussion section had chosen home-after-finals over school-after-finals, and had up and left the country: literally. I was now trying to run between the piano for choral pieces, my usual keyboard mallets, and other various percussion instruments - on the other side of the room, as it was - that I'd never played before. Various instruments included the triangle, crash cymbals, suspended cymbal, maracas, mark tree and wood block. All simple, I'm sure, but sight reading multiple scores of music and juggling multiple instruments while trying to figure out how to play the blasted things causes a wee bit of angst. However, a student who was in the band first semester came and helped out - unbeknownst to me - so when the concert actually started, I literally stood in the middle of the percussion section doing nothing. A four-minute song takes hours when one is forced to stand staring at the conductor, trying to look non-chalant as all the blood in her body floods her face. But hey, the red-faced girl now knows how to play the cymbals. If you're looking for a mediocre percussionist who has practice blushing on stage, call me up. I'm ready.
Sunday morning came all too soon and all too cloudy. I hurried to get ready - after doing the family meal round-up, of course - to show up at the church early. Good thing I arrived at 9:30a for the commencement scheduled to begin at 10a. We didn't begin playing the prelude until 10:23 (and we played it twice before moving on to the processional).
Pomp and Circumstance. I had a hard time focusing on my music rather than smiling at each senior as they marched past the piano. They each wore their smiles proudly and held their mortarboard capped heads high. After the opening announcements, prayer, song, etc., the senior officers presented gifts of appreciation to the faculty who especially impacted the senior class. I had no classes with seniors, so I enjoyed sitting back and watching other faculty receive their flowers and hugs...
"Ms. Jessica, could you please stand."
Oh, no. The dam in my nasolacrimal ducts (excuse my A&P nerdiness) is threatening to burst. To make matters more complicated, one of the seniors I've grown closest to - my "diva tutor", as a matter of fact - has been chosen to read the note of appreciation aloud. I've never seen her on the verge of tears, but she doesn't quite begin reading immediately; I suspect she has a lump in her throat very similar to the lump in mine. I blinked back tears as she read the very special note and made her way off the stage. We both put on our steely smiles and pretend nothing life-changing is happening as she gives me a small bunch of roses and a warm embrace.
I thought faculty appreciation was rough... oh boy. Parent appreciation followed immediately after, and I believe the humidity of the room increased 6.2 points just because of the tears. I giggled softly to myself at the sight of nearly the whole of the senior class - all but 4 are girls - fanning their tear-stained cheeks with their programs and dabbing carefully at their eyes with tissue.
I don't do well with goodbyes.
The graduate hug line was rushed, seniors were dispersed with their families, and I was grasping desperately for tangible goodbyes that made parting okay. Goodbyes that cut the ties between us without regret, without discomfort; no strings attached. Goodbyes that made me believe I'd see my students in the cafeteria again tomorrow, just like always. Goodbyes that were "See you soon!" instead of "I'll see you... maybe." Goodbyes that made me happy instead of sad.
Happy, proud, sentimental, and nostalgic.
A smattering of flavors on a bittersweet graduation Sunda(e).