My sister's graduation was last Thursday - she's officially finished secondary school (starting the Leaving Cert. in mere days - eep! I don't envy her that..)
It was... weird.
I went with my dad, because my mum was away on a trip she'd booked long before she knew the grads date. Doesn't it always work out that way? Anyway, I said I'd go - I wanted to. I've been dying to go back to that school for a long, long time.
And I had all these ideas in my head...
I was going to talk to my Irish teacher (who'd thought I wasn't great, but had potential) and tell him how much I'd learned and how involved in Saol na Gaeilge I was now, and how big a part of my life the language is now... how much I'd seen and heard and learnt... all my plans...
And I was gonna talk to my old English teacher, and tell him all about how journalism was going and thank him again for being such a huge inspiration.
And I was gonna talk to my old Art teacher, and tell him I've been neglecting my drawing etc. but that I'm getting back into it. And ask him how things were; that I'd heard he'd been ill.
And I was gonna talk to my old maths teacher - and thank him for scaring me off going to Art college. He probably saved me.
And I was gonna walk in with my head held high.
It didn't quite go like that.
It was really, really strange.
My sister's friends told her her dress was too "club-wear"-y, so I lent her one of my dresses.. and a handbag... and some shoes... and my jacket... and she walked out of the house looking EXACTLY like 18-year-old me. In fact... I remember wearing that dress to the year above me's grads...
As I walked in with my dad, my old principal (standing in the exact same spot, shepherding people the exact same direction) stopped me to ask what class I was in. I had a feeling he was just about to comment on the fact I was late, when he did a double-take and said, "Oh! Sorry. It's your sister."
At the ceremony, they read the same poem - Desiderata - that they'd read at mine. And, just like last time, I mouthed along - having memorised the words years ago. I was a little rustier this time.
The speeches were the very same kind of funny... students and teachers poking fun at each other with all the same jokes. Nothing much had changed... Jibes at the two young, spikey-haired, lads-lads teachers; "hedgehog one and hedgehog two, aka, Jack and Jones"... And, about getting suspiciously overdressed when heading out to the library...
The choir sang all the cheesy goodbye songs... The "talented" kids had their bitta the spotlight. The token (slightly rockerish) band played a set... No one paid attention as the trad soc played incredibly well... Two blatantly popular fellas butchered Galway Girl to riotous applause...
As 18-year-old me collected her little certificate and class bracelet thingie (clearly nervous, and just a little awkward in herself - I wished she knew how gorgeous she looked) Dad snapped away, commenting on how much easier it was to get a good shot this time, being so much closer.
And then there were refreshments - tea, coffee, and the exact same finger food. It was even laid out the same. I snubbed the sambos and made a beeline to where I felt the springrolls would be. There they were.
Whatever triumphant confidence I thought I'd feel...didn't happen. With my now blonde hair, and my glasses (which I wouldn't have been seen DEAD in back then), not ONE of my teachers recognised me in all the faces.
The students didn't know me. The teachers didn't know me. The parents didn't know me. The feeling was all too terribly familiar. I felt as invisible and lost and jittery as I had on my first day at school. Being in that place set a lot of old nerves singing...
I - eventually - got up the courage to approach my maths teacher. Gesturing to myself; "Aoife Ryan" sparked an excited recognition. He was delighted to see me! Full of questions and praise and, well, everything I'd expected! We had a great chat. And I spoke to one or two more teachers after that (each time having to introduce myself).
Though it kinda seemed so at first, I haven't been forgotten... I've just changed a lot. So much that I'm unrecognisable.
Which is exactly what I wanted.