The last day of school possesses a magic all its own. Students stare at the clock as it slowly tick-tock-ticks a countdown to summer vacation. When the final bell finally rings, excited cheers fill the classrooms and halls—and that’s just the teachers! Children sing an ancient refrain: “School’s out, school’s out, teacher let the monkeys out!”
During childhood, I loved the last days of school. The final week included all of the best elements of education without the needless distractions of books, tests, or learning. We spent the time helping our teachers prepare the rooms for summer vacation.
The teachers appointed various boys in the classroom to carry heavy stacks of textbooks to the stuffy storage room. I still associate the smell of dust with higher learning. We considered the manual labor to be a badge of honor and entitlement. The savvier among us could stretch the five minute roundtrip to a quarter hour of roaming the halls. Four roundtrips consumed an entire class period.
Meanwhile, the girls washed the chalkboards and stripped the bulletin boards. We cleared a year’s accumulation of debris and detritus out of the desks. Then we scrubbed our desktops till they shined.
The more trusted among us went outside to clean the erasers unsupervised. We banged the felt pads against the building before scrubbing them on a wire box. Clouds of chalk dust filled the air and coated our lungs. No doubt a future Surgeon General will determine that chalk dust caused many of the problems plaguing my generation.
The more idealistic educators—who still believed that students should learn something during the final week of school—gave handouts to their classes. However, most of the work felt like play. The assignments included clever word problems, numerical puzzles, crossword puzzles, and intricate mazes.
We also played games indoors and out. Inside contests included Seven Up, Spelling Bees, Hangman, and Around the World. Outside activities featured softball, kickball, freeze tag, and the always popular game of chase. We reveled in the minimal amount of adult supervision provided by the teachers and coaches.
The cafeteria closed early for its annual cleaning and degreasing, so the school provided grab-bag lunches with mysterious contents. Typical fare included a sandwich, chips, cookie, and apple. In the days before peanut allergies had been invented, we often ate peanut butter and honey blended sandwiches—a terrible defilement of the traditional peanut butter and jelly classic.
When the last bell of the last class of the last day sounded, we erupted from our classrooms like escaping prisoners of war. Whoops of joy resounded in the hallways with obsolete notebooks abandoned in our wake. Bursting through the exits, we exalted in our newfound freedom.
No more pencils, no more books, and no more teachers’ dirty looks!
An endless summer stretched before us, bright with promise like the June sun. Who knew what new adventures awaited us? Anything and everything could happen. Life stretched before us filled with unlimited potential and possibilities.
On my best days, I like to imagine that the final day of my life will feel like the last day of school.