School prizegiving resembles Groundhog Day

ALASTAIR PAULIN
Last updated 08:38 12/11/2012

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Alastair Paulin

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Forgive me the odd yawn mid-column. I was in the office until midnight last night writing stories about the Motueka High School prizegiving. I hope they were more coherent than I felt as I wrote them.

School prizegivings are not just a rite of a passage for the pupils being celebrated but for everybody in the room, and an odd blend of the poignant and the banal, depending on where you are sitting. For the departing senior students for whom the ceremony marks the end of their high school careers and the dawn of a wider world, it is a bittersweet, poignant moment. Since most of the kids are then set free for NCEA exams, it is essentially their last moment together at school.

But for many others - the staff, parents who have done it all before with older children, me - the ceremony has a Groundhog Day vibe. Every year the staff don their academic gowns and process on stage, where a parade of kids meander by, pausing to shake a hand and accept a book or cup, before shuffling off to await applause as a group.

Each year's crop of teenagers look as unformed and gangly as their predecessors did on parade, and there is always the one kid who decides to bound merrily up the steps, or see just how dishevelled you can get away with looking, or whether you can sneak through wearing a baseball cap (for future reference, the answer is no; it got yanked off by a teacher).

I covered my first prizegiving in 2008 and so this year's crop of departing year 13s were just beginning high school when I began my job as the Motueka reporter in February 2008. Covering school events is a big part of being a communities reporter and so I have watched these kids grow up.

In a nice circularity, new Silver Fern Shannon Francois, who was a year 13 pupil when I began the job, returned as a guest presenter of sports prizes.

The guest speaker is invariably a former pupil made good, whose job is to get the kids to identify with them via the recounting of embarrassing school memories, and then to inspire them with tales of exploits since.

Television reporter Erin Conroy was not going to disappoint. There was the detention in year 10 when she was made to pick up rubbish at interval under the feet of the year 12 boy she had the "massivest crush on"; the obligatory name dropping (Brangelina, Bono, Bill Gates - albeit done in self-mocking humble brag style); and the exhortations to go out and conquer the world, like generations of the Mot Famous before them.

Had I been in a dreamier state of mind, the sound of Whitney Houston cooing "I believe that children are our future" would have been stuck on high rotation in my head.

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Luckily I was spared that fate by that fact that I was sitting almost in the laps of the school's sax quintet, whose funky stabs throughout the evening kept me on high alert.

They are a tight crew, the sax quintet - MC Tim Morice got some unintentional laughs by mangling their name as the "sex quintet" - anchoring a solid school band. The kid on bass guitar had already mastered the essential bass player mode of looking serious as he laid down a steady rhythm, occasionally allowing himself a sinuous little head wobble as he inserted a tasty lick.

In the school band and choir performances I sensed the coiled spring of teenage rebellion aching to be set free. Sure, tonight we may be neatly dressed in school uniform dutifully hitting the notes in the Harry Potter processional medley, but once we're outta here, watch out!

That was clearly captured in the school choir's performance of Lady Gaga's Edge of Glory. The original is a huge slab of four-on-the-floor disco, where the driving beat leads to the release of Clarence Clemons' soaring sax solo.

The school choir version was incongruously sedate, as the girls' pure voices clearly enunciated the lyrics: "I need a man that thinks it's right when it's all wrong".

Then the boys chimed in with the backing: "Tonight, yeah baby, tonight, yeah baby" with the scared faces of boys who were not too sure what the girls were talking about but thought it would be best if they just agreed with their more sophisticated female classmates.

Meanwhile the flashing coloured spotlights were dancing over the serious looking staff on the stage rather than over the choir arrayed below them. I would have been suppressing a giggle had it not been for the fact that I was quite moved by the whole occasion; a year of high school is a big slice of life for a teenager and a huge endeavour for the establishment as a whole.

The pride, the achievement, the relief of having made it through another year was almost raw in the auditorium by the end of the evening.

Take a deep breath everybody. We'll do it all again next year.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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