Last Words by Isabelle Rideout

Last Words

(You have no idea how much my little MCR stannie self had to refrain from writing “Famous Last Words”.)

So here we are. The end of the road, or at least this segment. It’s been a good long three years, Wayland Middle School. The day I went to 6th grade orientation seems like forever ago, yet I can’t believe that I’m almost done with 8th grade. The days just slip by, don’t they? It’s simultaneously been forever and a blink. 

I figured it’s about time I wrote one last piece for The Orange and Black, and it might as well be a reflection on the ending of my time here — or should I say there? I doubt any of us could have predicted this three years ago. 

In a way though, it almost seems fitting. I went through much of middle school in a haze, a sort of not-fully-present state that’s a part of who I am. So the disconnect caused by the quarantine for me is really only my normal mental absence. 

My journey through middle school has been one of (guidance counselors listen up, you’re gonna love this) self-expression, friendship, and identity. I embraced creativity and started writing and drawing for fun. The first few months of middle school saw me with pretty much no friends, and now I have… less friends than I can count on one hand, but that’s okay because I can count to 12 (you gotta use the joints). I entered 6th grade wondering why I was so interested in this gay stuff, and I come out of 8th grade (you see where this is going) with “queer” as my label of choice (oh, yeah, if you didn’t know, I’m here, I’m queer, and I’m full of existential fear *does a coming out*) (yup, that was the point of the whole paragraph). 

My mom once told a story about one of her teachers saying, “A good way to tell how old someone is is to ask them where they were when JFK was shot.” This seemed ridiculous to her class, as JFK died far, far in the past for them. But in the end, 9/11 became the chronological landmark for their generation. 

To me, JFK was killed only slightly before 9/11 happened. Objectively, I know that 9/11 was much more recent and has a much larger impact on my life, but I feel about the same amount of connection with both events — perhaps 9/11 more only because more people died. To me, they’re both in The Past. Turns out I get a generational landmark tragedy anyways. 

I’ve often thought that one of the biggest divides between Millennials and Gen Zers is the ability to remember 9/11: the oldest Gen Zers might have been alive, but they don’t remember it. On the other hand, the youngest Millennials’ earliest memory might be 9/11. Millennials understand the fallout. They understand how the world changed. They know what the phrase “post 9/11 world” means. We don’t. (This might be false. I guess you can burst my bubble if you really want to. It sounds pretty good though, doesn’t it?) 

The understanding of the COVID-19 crisis is what will divide our generation from the next, Gen Alpha, though they are already born. Right now, we’re still in the middle. But later on, what new public health things will become routine? What will we reminisce about being so much easier in our youth? 

There are things I’m never going to do because of this. I’ll never get my DC trip. The lack of dance is what bothered me the most, until I flipped through my Cape Cod memory book. Those packed days created many special memories, and DC probably would have created more of that type. 

I feel extra sorry for the current 7th graders who miss Cape Cod for the allegedly more academic DC trip. 6th graders, you can get an “oof” for Walden. (You do have to admit missing a one-day bike trip is nothing compared to overnight trips.)

There’s something special about the end of the year that we’re all going to miss here. That hyper energy as everybody just wants the summer to begin. The way the sunlight seemed so much more tempting and happy packing up the last few days. Waiting to be picked up, so close to being the last time. I want to be part of that clamber again, yelling my friend’s names across the mob, cursing my locker, having strange little conversations with my locker-neighbors. 

I never got to do that certain in the knowledge that it was the last time. I never got to clean out my locker for the last time, then run outside because there’s no way the teachers are going to make us do anything else at this point. I never get the final winding energy of “it’s the last day of school!” 

You know what? I do feel cheated. I don’t get clapped out. I don’t get a closing ceremony. I don’t get to say a proper goodbye to my favorite teachers. I don’t get to choose the perfect book to circularly close out the year and middle school. (Fangirl, obviously. This is the book that launched me into online fandom, which has been a big part of my identity ever since I read it in 6th grade. I actually bought it a while back… maybe I’ll read it this weekend.) I don’t get to visit my old lockers or any other meaningful place one last time. 

None of my classmates get this either (though I doubt many of them want the book one). No end-of-year traditions. No signing “HAGS” on the signing-papers or yearbooks of classmates you don’t really care about. No collecting thoughtful messages from your teachers on the same paper items. No hugging your friends goodbye on the last day, and forcing them to also inscribe their name on the dead tree. No reminiscing over the coincidences that led to you becoming friends in the first place. No end-of-year parties in clubs. No one gets a proper entire fourth quarter — a whole quarter of our year’s education is sub-standard. 

We are all being cheated, and there isn’t a clear thief to blame. A more efficient and effective government might have made things better for us, but part of this was always going to happen — I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it, but I know I was once told that worldwide epidemics would become more common in the future because of higher inter-community mobility and population density. A new disease transmits to humans somewhere and, in the modern world, it spreads. Now the question is, will this happen again? When? 

But here we are, Wayland Middle School. There was no way this could be a normal goodbye article, because that’s the way things go. I can write something nice for you anyways: 

Though the journey has been long, the path ahead is longer, and the destination is yet to be known. We all began in very different places than we are in now. Some time ago, the class of 2024 walked into their first real day at the building where they would be shaped for the next three years. 540 school days later, they don’t ever get to walk out. 

This is the end. We don’t get a do-over, another chance to make it right. No time-travel. The story arc doesn’t get the conclusion it deserves, but the book moves forward, climbing toward the next phase. 

Goodbye, Wayland Middle School. I’ll miss you and I won’t. Thanks for everything. 

See you next year, Wayland High School.

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