By Ephraem Tan, written in 2015.
It’s been about two weeks since I graduated from NUS High. I’d initially debated between writing this article while everything was still fresh in my mind, and allowing for some time to pass to better collect my thoughts. I never actually made a decision; I just put off writing this for so long the former was no longer an option. Still, I remember everything quite clearly. It’s not an experience you’re like to forget.
There’s no easy way to look in a mirror, robed in your convocation gown for the last time, and realise that you’re leaving NUS High for good. There’s no easy way to look at your friends decked in black and gold, and realise you’ll no longer be seeing them five times a week. So you diffuse the tension. You compare them to overgrown bats, or Harry Potter characters. You turn their gold hood thing inside out. And it helps for a while, before you start filing into the auditorium.
This year we were privileged to have Mr Quek Gim Pew, CEO of DSO National Laboratories, with us to celebrate our convocation. Dr Hang, also leaving NUS High this year, delivered a sombre goodbye of his own; and then we were all lined up at the side of the stage, the emcees calling our names off one by one. I hadn’t managed to locate my parents in the sea of faces in the audience by then, so I settled for staring absently at the backs of those walking onstage.
They called my name, and I went through the motions dutifully. I strode up to Mr Quek. I shook his hand. I accepted my diploma with both hands. I turned and approximately smiled in the direction of the camera. I made my way to the side of the stage. I forgot how to bow. I inclined my torso vaguely forwards. I walked off the stage an NUS High graduate.
A lot later, after our entire cohort had been officially graduated and awarded, our valedictorian Garett Tok walked onstage (to uncomfortably drawn-out applause) to begin his Lego speech. “Some people,” Garett ended, sagely, “view graduation as a farewell to our soon-to-be alma mater. Others view it as a transition into their next phase of life.”
I found myself wondering what post-NUS High life would be like. I kept drawing blanks.
It’s been said half of Prom is photo taking. I feel personal responsibility to correct this gross misestimation. It’s somewhere between three quarters and seven eighths. Under the theme of The Great Gatsby, Prom this year was held in one of the reception rooms of the Concorde Hotel, and you could hardly make your way to the washroom without being accosted by someone or another for a picture together. Behind this fervour, naturally, was everyone’s implicit awareness that this would be the last time they’d be seeing a lot of familiar faces for a very long time. Also behind this fervour was how everyone looked especially dapper and wanted to get their photos taken. Both were fair motives. Either way, countless gigabytes of memory were rapidly occupied outside the reception room that night before their doors swung open to permit entry.
From the start – when they revealed we had to derive our table numbers through math problems at each table – I felt a curious mix of pride and nausea. The courses (local food: satay, sambal prawns and the like) were served in between performances by groups of the musically inclined (FBI, Dere, Rafillah, J & K) as well as gameshows by Prom Comm’s emcees. It was a great deal of fun. I wasn’t
expecting an acoustic cover of Low by Flo Rida, for instance, or to witness Ms Dass pelting Kai Fong with peanuts in disgust, but thanks to that night I can safely check both experiences off my bucket list.
There’s a lot that happened that night worth recounting. Mr Wang’s ballroom moves, people stealing balloons to inhale the helium from them, Nelson and Shixuan’s adorable rendition of Wrecking Ball that won them the titles of Prom King and Queen. But there’s also a lot that can’t be shared meaningfully on ink and paper: jokes and idle reminiscing and late night ventures that would mean nothing to an outsider, but everything to those part of the experience. So I’ll keep those between us.
That night belonged to NUS High’s Batch of 2015.