For me at least, the Semi Formal Dance on the last night was the moment it truly sunk in that I would be leaving this extraordinary place and these extraordinary people at GSE, and I would never see some of them again. After dancing our feet off for three hours, the final dance ended with “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men, and that’s when the official sobbing started. Students exited to the Quad to hug their friends and have one final late night hurrah with the people they had grown inexplicably close to in such a short time. Students lay on blankets and sat by the fountain, stretching curfew to the last minute before sprinting back to their dorms for bed checks, at a special 2:05 in the morning.
The last night (or rather, morning) at GSE is a custom we were only made aware of days before the time arrived. Students have curfew at 2, but are allowed to stay up in the dorms and hang out with their friends all night. This, predictably, lead to delirious laughter and sobbing of the best kind. Students spent their last hours together in happiness, writing letters and singing songs and watching Food Network and doing wall sits down to the very last minute. Almost 100 students also opted to stay up all night and venture down to the amphitheater in the morning to watch the sunrise. The common refrain of “Here Comes the Sun” being sung made Closing Day seem like something less foreboding.
Breakfast on the last day was a somber affair, students everywhere laughing and crying with their friends, signing Summer Books with heartfelt, sweet messages. Love flew freely and easily from pens and mouths and tears of students as they bravely embraced their friends and disregarded the tears and sadness for just moments. Moving out was hectic, as it would be in any setting, but there was a distinct sense of loss permeating the air as students dragged their suitcases and laundry baskets to vehicles full of parents who seemed to be confused on why their children were so irritable and emotional.
Our last poetry class was a low key affair. Some students opted to read poems about leaving and their experiences here, and everyone passed around their Summer Books to get them signed by classmates. There is something special in the air of a class who has laid down their hearts through writing in front of each other being forced to say goodbye. Our instructor, the unwavering Chuck Sullivan, was quick to remind us that we should keep in touch with him should we need anything, poetry related or otherwise, and I was so reassured by his presence and how much he had supported me over the summer.
Closing convocation was a festival of waterworks, with students appearing to Jones Auditorium already sporting tear-streaked faces from their final Area 1 classes. It began with a speech from our amazing Site Director, Laura Sam, who talked about how this, just like any other, was “the happiest day at Governor’s School East” because it wasn’t really an ending; just a new beginning for other opportunities in our lives going forward. She then introduced student speakers, who spoke on different Area 1s and average classes, Area 2 and 3, and various electives and activities outside the classroom. Tears were shed by all when students expressed a sense of finally finding their community, finding their “brave,” as one student put it. Another mentioned that the first word they thought of when faced with “GSE Instrumental Music” was an unequivocal, resounding “family.”
Students also performed reprises of songs from the Variety Show, poems about leaving GSE, and the Choral Music students gave one last performance, crying and laughing through their beautiful music. I promise we’re not a cult at GSE, but when Laura Sam and some of our instructors started crying, I finally found myself tearing up at the notion of leaving this magnificent home. You may think I’m exaggerating how much crying there was, but instructors and TACs were actually lining the walls of the auditorium, holding tissues boxes and jumping out to offer tissues to any student who needed them. Convocation ended with a slideshow presentation, set to various anthems of friendship, of photos from the entire summer. Cheers and laughter resounded at the sight of funny pictures of students across campus and sweet pictures of our instructors and TACs. One particular strong cheer was heard for TIM (Team Instrumental Music) pictures and while the whole GSE community is not a cult, Instrumental Music is, for sure. Following the presentation, students embraced each other in the auditorium and outside on the steps, one last opportunity to say goodbye to a community that welcomed each and every single one of us.
An experience I had the last night of Governor’s School is maybe the one that defines it the most. I was in one of the parlors in the Stringfield dorm building, and I made friends with a girl that I’ve never spoken to before. We shared a bag of Doritos that she did not judge me for stress eating at 3:30 in the morning. This friendliness, this welcoming attitude held by every student, is what made everyone’s experiences so important to them. This was truly a community of kindred spirits and opposing perspectives and respectful arguments and love.
I write this last post from the comfort of my home in Greensboro, North Carolina, after having left Governor’s School East seven hours ago. I never thought I would get so attached to a place in such little time, but I think that’s how it always is when students leave Governor’s School. And so, I leave GSE with a lump in my throat and these words bearing on my heart:
“Although we’ve come to the end of the road, still I can’t let you go. It’s unnatural, you belong to me, I belong to you.”
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to, nor will I want to, let GSE go. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all the love and life I have experienced here.