Thursday was the most emotional day of my life since I left America in June 2005. It was the last bell ceremony at school, the end of my second and final school year in Moldova. I had been asked several days beforehand to make a short speech, but I had no idea how I would react as I read it, and I didn't know how the rest of the day would go.
I woke up at my regular time and got to the school by 8:30 a.m. I went upstairs to the second floor, and as I turned the corner toward my toward my two classrooms, I saw Ecaterina Ivanovna, the Romanian teacher, and Nina Ivanovna, the geography teacher. A wave of emotions hit me, and I knew I needed to hurry to the solitude of my classroom; if I could barely handle seeing two teachers, that didn't bode well for my speech in front of 250 students, more than half of whom have been my students for a year or more.
At 9 a.m., the ceremony started in the shade of the school's front garden. I was busy keeping the 8th graders quiet, which was especially important because the microphone wasn't working and a single noisy student could drown out anyone speaking in front.
After several awards were handed out, Mrs. Lucia, the chemistry teacher, introduced me. During her introduction, several of the 8th graders around me kept saying, "Stay another year, Mr. Peter," and, "You can't go."
I walked to the front and pulled my speech out of my pocket, saying that I was too nervous to remember a speech (which you can read here in Romanian or English). I tried to improvise a thank you that I hadn't written at the beginning of the speech, but I choked up and had to turn my back to the crowd for a few seconds. I got through the speech well, although my voice stuck in my throat numerous times. When I finished, students blitzed me with dozens of flowers. In total, I received at least 40 flowers, enough to fill both a vase and a five-liter bucket when I got them home.
The ceremony continued with presentations from the first graders who finished their first year and from the 9th and 11th graders, both of which are leaving our school. After the ceremony, a few more students gave me flowers, including one of my 8th grade girls who broke down in tears when she started thanking me. Students then went to their homerooms to receive their grades, and I retreated to my English classroom. I opened the door and one of the windows, letting a nice breeze through the room, and I sat on my desk next to the window with my feet on the radiator pipes, looking out over the front garden and thinking about my two years of work. American hip-hop music was blasting in the garden, which may not have been the most conducive to thinking, but was somehow fitting.
A half-hour later, everyone in the school gathered again on the front lawn for Children's Day, which is technically June 1, but we celebrated it a day earlier. There were contests for chalk drawings on the cement in front of the school, poetry readings, essay-writing (for the elementary school kids), singing and dancing. The winners received prizes of candy and boxes of chocolates. After the concert, the boys played more music and the teachers and kids danced. A handful of kids asked me to pose for pictures with them.
Some of my 7th- and 8th-grade boys asked me to come to the pond with them, and I gladly joined them. When we got there, the boys all stripped down to their skivvies and ran in. I didn't swim, but took off my shirt, socks and shoes and sat on the grass near the pond. When boys wanted a break from swimming, they'd come out and talk with me for a while. After an hour, I walked back with a few of the boys, including one who didn't feel the need to wear anything more than a t-shirt and his boxer briefs as he walked back into the village. I went home, ate some lunch, and took a quick nap before returning for the school dance that evening.
After checking whether the boys organizing the dance needed any help, I went over to a nearby bar to grab a beer. I was accompanied to the store by one of my 5th grade students, who was going there to buy gum. Not wanting to buy a beer alone in front of one of my students, I was glad when I saw Vasile, one of the school's groundskeepers. I bought us each a beer and some peanuts and we talked for about 45 minutes. I then went back to the school, where the dance was starting to pick up momentum.
The boys had set up the speakers and sound system outside so that we could have the dance in front of the school. The weather was perfect for dancing, but the outdoor setting made my students and graduates think that it was acceptable to smoke at the dance. I had three ways of dealing with the kids, depending on their age; with the 11th graders and boys who had already graduated in years past, I told them to smoke on the road, not at the school. With my 8th graders who were smoking, I took the cigarettes out of their hands and stomped them out. (One of my 8th graders apologized and told me, in English, "Mr. Peter, I'm only smoking when I'm drunk." The fact that that was an acceptable rationale in his mind tells me there is a fundamental problem with attitudes toward alcohol and tobacco.)There was one other guy, about my age, who was not from the village and kept saying, "Show me the rule that I can't smoke at the school." I stood within two inches of his face, puffed out my chest, and harassed him in both Romanian and English for about three minutes until he put out his cigarette; if he wanted to be a jerk, I wasn't going to let my kids see me cave in to him, and I wasn't going to let him enjoy his smoke.
The dance was scheduled to end at 11:30 p.m., but we teachers were lenient and let the kids play music until midnight, on the one condition that it be Moldovan music so that we could dance the hora. When the dance finally ended, a handful of teachers stayed at the school and talked with Doichita, the security guard. Teachers repeatedly told me, "Don't forget us."
I finally got home at 12:45, happy to go to bed after a long day full of memories.