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The exams are finished for another year, and the timetables have changed in the secondary schools round my neck of the woods, with all the pupils moving up a year group. This means that last year’s 6th Years (or senior class) are no longer school pupils, and most of them are now enjoying that sweetest of long summers between school and university – a real golden time for them.
But it’s the new 6th Years I want to talk about. Now at the top of the secondary ‘tree’, new 6th Years across the country will be finding themselves facing a range of new experiences and emotions. I have been working for the last 4 years in a school which is in the same cluster as the high school I went to myself; a high school that is recognised as being amongst the very best that Scotland has to offer. Having worked over these last 4 years with the remarkable young people who are the 6th Years at this school, I have found myself amazed by their talents, enthusiasm, workrate and attitude. I hope their futures are as bright as they surely deserve.
Talking to them, each yeargroup has echoed the experience I had during my own 6th Year. Having made our way through school together for the previous five or even twelve years, the end of 5th Year saw a large group of our former classmates leave school to move on to new experiences – be it training, employment, further or higher education. This had what was at the time a most unexpected effect. The social or peer groups – dare I say cliques? – that had existed impervious and indestructible throughout our schooling and the rigid, elaborate and often unfathomable social etiquette that went along with them just suddenly ceased to be, virtually overnight. There was a recognition by virtually every one of us that we had shared a unique experience and formed a very special bond – indeed that these people, these classmates who had undoubtedly seen both the very best and the absolute worst of us would be among those who knew us the best throughout our lives.
Looking around and marking those who had already left us, we found ourselves experiencing a profound sense of camaraderie or kinship amongst those of us who were left. No longer was there anyone you couldn’t talk to, or who wouldn’t talk to you because you wore the wrong clothes, listened to the wrong music or just weren’t cool enough. A sense of realism or perhaps mortality had washed over us, as we began to realise that we weren’t going to be at school for ever and that real life was beginning to rear its ugly head. The sense of community, the sense of togetherness was almost palpable, and I know that 6th Year was for many of us amongst the very best experiences of our school lives.
At the time, it seemed to go on forever. I always had money in my pocket, there was always something exciting going on and the sun was always shining. Yeah, there was hard work and exams but there was also day trips and holidays, parties and pub visits, football and friends. We were becoming young adults and experiencing all that meant, but at the same time still had the enthusiasm and joy of youth on our side. I often think back, and my only regrets are that it took us so long to reach that place and that we didn’t all get to experience it together.
And now I know that it wasn’t just us. I have now listened to 3 consecutive lots of 6th Years sit and tell me the exact same story, as well as reading about another group of (not-quite) fictitious schoolmates who went through the same thing. In a way, it’s sad that they all made the same mistakes we did by leaving it so late, but on the other hand it’s brilliant that they managed to realise in time. And perhaps it took that unique set of circumstances to help us all realise the things that really matter and the things that don’t – to help us mature and grow up just enough to appreciate each other.
And so I watch this latest crop of 6th Years beginning to experience the same transformation themselves. Their year ahead is likely to be over in a hearbeat in one sense, and to go on forever in another. Regardless of how it feels at the time, I would advise them to savour each moment and enjoy them to the fullest.
This is your Golden Time. Make the most of it.