“You can take a boy out of SJI, but you can never take SJI out of a boy.”

Midway through the “Saint Joseph’s Call”, I caught myself glancing at the people around me, at all those youthful boys pouring their hearts out in song. Then I looked at my classmates, the fine gentlemen that have journeyed with me through this phase of life. Our arms were interlocked, and our palms were cupped firmly on each others shoulders. A certain fire was in our eyes, a strange one, for I could see neither blazing joy nor simmering sadness. I looked to the big guy on my left, and our gaze interlocked. In that precise moment, time slowed, for in his eyes, I had finally found the answer to my question.

I often find that I’m not good at expressing my emotions, and as such, I was sure that shedding even a single tear during the graduation ceremony was beyond me. However, the night before the big day, I lay sleepless on my bed. An indescribable feeling was drowning me, but I just couldn’t put a finger on what exactly it was. Was it excitement? Not really. Was it fear? Most definitely not. As I lay there with my gaze directed firmly at the bare ceiling, I felt sick to the core. I was expecting myself to feel miserable, for having to leave my beloved classmates, and indeed, I did, but there was something I felt that wasn’t quite right. This stray thought remained embedded in my sub-consciousness, for I failed to find the key to this enigma.

As I waltzed into the starkly lit hall early in the morning, I greeted, and was greeted by many with a warm smile and a genuine hug. Words of congratulation and goodbye seemed to hang on everyone’s lips. The ceremony began in typical SJI fashion, in thanksgiving prayer, then it proceeded full swing, the details of which I am not inclined to go into in specificity. Then came what was the defining moment of the graduation, the singing of the song I mentioned earlier, “Saint Joseph’s Call”. As I mentioned, when I looked into the eyes of the big guy on my left, I found the answer to what I was feeling, and indeed what many others were feeling as well.

We’ve grown so much over the years, learnt so much, been through so much. We’ve seen each other evolve, from little boys to true gentlemen. When I sang that song, the memories came back in waves. This ceremony, it was a mirror of the orientation camp all those years ago. The same song, the same people, the same good friends. Everything I’ve been through flashed past, all the laughter, tears, fear. All these priceless stories, they were on a page that was about to turn, turn to a blank page, where more stories were bound to be written. These were no longer friends, we were a family, and to say goodbye to a family member, hell, it isn’t going to be easy.

So what is it that I was feeling? Pardon me for being clichéd, but it was neither joy nor sadness, it was disbelief. I was on the verge of being uprooted from the place that I had grown my roots so deep, and planted in a new garden to start the process of growing my roots all over again. I was about to leave the comfort of my home and venture bravely into the unknown. I was about to say goodbye to my brothers, who I see almost every day, and whom I have grown to love dearly. The realisation hit like a sledgehammer, knocking the wind clean out of me.

Then, to my greatest surprise, I shed a tear. A single lonely tear. It slid slowly down my cheek, and I felt its comforting warmth. Quickly wiping it off before anyone noticed, I joined the thunderous applause that resounded through the hall. And no, the tear was not out of fear, but rather because I can’t bear to leave this beautiful family.

My moment of self-discovery didn’t last, though, as we had to go on stage to receive our graduation papers. As I walked towards the guest of honour, I had the widest smile on my face, and when I was before him, I gave the firmest handshake of my damn life. Keen to return the favour, he duly obliged by giving me a squeeze so hard, it just fell short of hitting the “make you squeal like a pig” level.

Before long, the celebration drew to a close, and the last moments of our official Secondary school lives were spent frantically looking for our friends and teachers for Instagram-worthy photographs. I was one of these people. First up was a throwback photo with my Secondary One Classmates, who have changed so much. Having their arms slung across my shoulders certainly brought back sweet memories. Having found the people that mattered most to me, giving them a warm hug and taking a solo photograph, I straightened my tie and walked out of the hall, into the radiant sunshine.