Julie Lyons chews her pencil. Steve Bishop fingers a paper football. Ellie Lamoreaux does a little fingernail dance atop her backpack, starting with her index finger and working slowly to her pinky (I have imagined what this might feel like on my forearm). Eyes dart from our geography teacher, Mr. Sanders, who stands at the front of the classroom with a world map behind him, to the nondescript clock above his head, the small hand just below the three, the big hand nearing the six, time suspended, the minute before the bell feeling like a half-hour.
It’s the last day of school. We have plans. Julie will go to Florida to visit her grandma. Steve will load surfboard, hiking gear, and tent into his Toyota pickup and head north to Big Sur, where he’ll stay for the entire summer, riding empty beachbreaks by day and sleeping under the stars by night. Ellie will meet Matthew, an aspiring movie producer, who will invite her to Hollywood premieres and Bel Air parties. The rest of the students have their own summer dreams, their own destinies, which they are likely rehearsing in their heads.
Mr. Sanders is saying something about a trip to Papua New Guinea, but none of us are listening. Our eyes are fixed to the clock. The seconds hand rounds the six, the nine, it climbs to ten, eleven, twelve—finally the bell rings. The students bolt for the door. Some cheer. A few hug Mr. Sanders. An army of us bolts down the hall, passing open-mouth lockers, overflowing trashcans. The parking lot is abuzz with shouts and screeches. A Pee-Chee folder flies out the window of a blue Honda Accord.
That is how I remember the last day of school, circa 10th grade in the early ‘80s—though in our media-saturated world, it’s hard to know which memories are our own and which have been influenced by pop culture (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the entire John Hughes catalogue, and Alice Cooper immediately spring to mind). Is that “school’s out for the summer” spirit the same today? I asked a trio of teens what it feels like for them. Their memories were not colored by nostalgia or sentimentality. For them, the last day of school happened less than a week ago.
“Not that exciting,” said Meg, a senior. “I mean, I’m happy to graduate, but I’m not really thinking about summer. I’m more looking forward to the fall—I’m going to NYU.”
“Exhilarating, incredible, fantastic,” was how Milo, an 11th grader described it, though I’m pretty sure he was being sarcastic (he barely looked up from his iPhone). “I’m going to have the best summer of my life. I can just feel it.”
“I think of The Wizard of Oz, ‘ding-dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead’—you know that song? Well that’s how I’d describe that moment when the bell’s ringing, and everyone’s just thrilled to be out of school. But here’s the difference: for Dorothy it was all a dream that she wakes up from, but for us it’s a dream that’s only just started.”