My 12-year-old daughter graduated from our local elementary school the other day. It was the 139th graduation ceremony at this school (really!), which means that the first class of graduates are now 151 years old (really?).
In Japan, children attend elementary school through the sixth grade, then begin going to junior high school. And since the school year runs from April to March, graduation ceremonies—for schools everywhere—are held at this time of year.
Smiles and tears
At Lulu’s graduation ceremony, Keiko and I were sitting in the school gymnasium, toward the back, but were still able to spy her smiling face among the other roughly 150 sixth graders. It was a long ceremony of speeches and diplomas then toward the end, when the students stood and sang a moving song, the tears began to flow from both the children and their parents. Until then, I had been keeping it together pretty well, but seeing Lulu cry while continuing to fight her way through the song, I got really choked up, too.
And I found myself flashing back on her life, from the day of her birth, when I first held her in my arms, to this large milestone, the day she graduated from elementary school.
Making the most of each day
Friends, I know this point is made so often it’s now a near-meaningless cliché, but the past 12 years of Lulu’s life have flown by so fast, my head is spinning. Ironically, this hasn’t been true of the days themselves—which have sometimes felt very long indeed—but the years…the years have been a blur. I now look at that photo of us from the day she was born and I think: What happened? Where did all that time go?
The truth is, the milestone of your own daughter’s or son’s graduation from elementary school is much closer than you might imagine—no matter how old they are right now. And that fact is vital to hold firmly in mind, day by day, because making the most of this time is not only crucial for creating happy memories of the only childhood they’ll have, it’s essential for effectively advancing their language development and fostering strong bilingual ability. Each day is important, for both aims, and persisting in these efforts over the weeks, months, and years, with the most playful spirit you can muster, is what ultimately leads to the greater success and joy of this whole journey.
I feel blessed to say that Lulu, on the brink of becoming a teen, is now fully bilingual and biliterate in Japanese and English and has also been making steady progress in acquiring a third language, Spanish. At the same time, it’s clear that, given the challenges involved in supporting her English side (our main minority language), good fortune has actually had a lot less to do with this outcome than all the mindful efforts made on a daily basis over the past 12 years, from the very first day of her life.
Those efforts—with both Lulu and Roy, as well as with my students—have been described in extensive detail at this blog, at my forum, and in my book. And I feel blessed, too, that my own journey as a parent and teacher of bilingual children can serve as an empowering source of ideas and inspiration for the greater success and joy of other families in this multilingual world.
BONUS! CAN YOU SPOT LULU IN THIS VIDEO???
Here’s a short video clip of the sixth graders leaving the gymnasium after the graduation ceremony. I’m waiting for Lulu to appear while shouting out my congratulations (“omedetou” in Japanese). Can you spot Lulu as she walks by??? (Hint: She’s crying! And she has a light blue backpack!)