You were five when you entered Baldwin Girls’ High School. The day was a blur. You wore a pink skirt, the others wore intimidating blue uniforms.
You quickly adapted as a newcomer to the world of reading and writing. Your head was bent over a notebook, clutching the page with two tiny fingers to achieve that perfect indent to your paragraph.
You were given a dark blue, majestic looking diary with the school emblem on the cover. It looked and felt important, and teachers used it to rat on you to your parents. Exam scores, bad behaviour, forgotten notebooks- they’d all be recorded in the diary along with tomorrow’s homework.
You had your first experience of true horror when an older girl told you about the ghost in the tree and the girl who died in the elevator by the bathroom many centuries ago. You were too scared to ask your teacher about it; you just stayed clear of trees and avoided drinking too much water.
If you grew up before the “no beating” rule, you received your fair share of raps on the knuckles for speaking out of turn. You walked back to your seat after taking the hit; palms stinging from the wooden ruler and eyes stinging from tears of humiliation.
You stood with your arms outstretched as a lady measured you for a new school uniform; you were excited to begin your new life in Middle School – pinafore and all.
You were elected class leader. It was an important role that only grew more important as you got older. You paced around and yelled at the noisemakers, your shiny leader’s badge completing the authoritative look.
Events and festivals came and went. More than once, you were part of a group that sang, danced and acted on stage. Just for a day, your slightly messy school uniform would be accepted. Some teachers would even go as far as to say “don’t bother changing back into your uniform now.” It was surreal to sit through classes in a costume and makeup.
You lost a classmate. At fourteen, she and her family died in a car accident. A classroom full of girls sat dumbfounded as the strictest teachers gently broke the news, sounding like they were holding back tears themselves.
You took your first school trip to North India. You spent three days in a train with hundreds of others your age, pushed the boundaries of what you could say to the teachers, and brushed your teeth with a view of a village you were passing by.
You graduated from the Middle School Library to the Senior Library with a sense of pride. Whether you read every book in the Sweet Valley series or caught up on gossip in the smaller rooms, the library was a merciful break from the real world.
You marched with the band on sports day. You wore a red checkered uniform and a serious expression. Because of the band, you fell in love with sports day – even though the only time you’d ever run was from vicious stray dogs. Why does the “loser band kid” stereotype exist?
You watched your teachers let their hair down and profess their love to you for Children’s Day. It was today that you realized how much you loved them, even though they drove you as crazy as you drove them.
When the first of December rolled around every year, the excitement was tangible. The speakers blasted Christmas carols, teachers were a little more lenient, and you could always see groups of students practising the show they’d later put on. At this time the graduating batch became even more emotional, and it was understandable why. December in Baldwins was a month-long party, from Christmas singalongs to the skit with three kings and a camel.
You sat in an eerily silent classroom as you wrote the exams that would decide your fate. After three years of hearing “it’s important to learn that for the boards,” the real thing was here. You found them easier than the torturous practice exams you had to give.
Before you knew what was happening, you were attending farewell parties, bonding with everyone else in the graduating batch and wondering just what would happen next year. Your uniform was signed by 200 other girls while you signed theirs. For one day every year, the graduating batch stood out as the girls with writing all over their uniforms.
It’s been many years now; you barely think of school anymore. You have a job, a house and wonderful people in your life. But when the first of December arrives, you find yourself thinking of the teachers who shaped you. You find yourself thinking of the “rebels” in your class that you didn’t think would amount to anything. Today, they run successful businesses and spread thoughts of love and inclusion in a world that’s quick to alienate. They force you to realize how much you have to grow.
For 136 years now, Baldwins has etched itself into the minds of thousands of young women – the sharp command of “Baldwin girls, dis-miss,” followed by five rhythmic claps, the terror of getting caught with unpolished shoes, the memory of Mr. Mitchell playing the guitar in music class. But slowly, each part of the school was replaced with something new. Today, you can barely recognize the fancy new buildings that have replaced the musty old ones. While it’s upsetting, remember that you’re unrecognizable too – sometimes even to yourself.
Thank you for everything, Baldwins. And happy birthday.
Image by Baldwin Girls High School Facebook page