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Hay's Daze: A letter to the boss of education

Harley Hay laments about his days as a student
Harley Hay

Dear Boss of Education, Alberta, Many Decades Ago,

I doubt that you will be able to read and respond to this on account of you are probably quite dead and have been so for many years already.  But I am writing this letter from the future to complain in the strongest possible terms regarding the scourge that is devastating the mental health of Junior High students everywhere in Alberta, namely those soul-sucking confidence-crushing instruments of tweenaged torture you call “Departmental Exams”.  And it’s all your fault, even though you made us take those exams decades ago and you probably didn’t know any better on account of mental health hadn’t been invented yet.

I feel compelled to write and get this off my chest after all these years because just the other day I drove slowly (30 kph) past a scene of unbridled joy and celebration.  It was the last day of school and the large Middle School grounds was teeming with young humans staggering under the weight of huge backpacks bulging with a whole year’s worth of locker detris, laughing and shouting and bumping into each other with unbridled abandon because it was that rare magical time called the First Day of Summer Holidays!

The boys were showing off for the girls by punching each other in the shoulder and running around tacking other boy humans and being loud and dorky enough to make sure to get everyone else’s attention, whilst the girls all made a show of being on their cell phones, laughing and giggling to each other in little groups of female circles pretending not to notice the dorky boys.

The powerful energy in the air around that school was so palpable I was afraid I would run into it with my car and crack my windshield.  And it immediately took me flying back through the swirling mists of time to my own Central School moments when the planets aligned and the universe presented that singular celebratory combo of Last Day of School/First Day of Summer feeling all in one miraculous moment. 

I was driving along basking in the memories, just driving and basking and appreciating the laughter and joy of those young punks and their fantastic feelings of freedom when it hit me like a soccer ball in the face at recess.  DEPARTMENTALS!

It is your department, Hon. Boss of Education that inflicted these big time exams on Grade 9 students for the sole purpose of destroying whatever positive life force we students happened to be enjoying at the time.  But I seem to remember the Departmentals were supposedly a way for you and your political cronies to rank how smart or unsmart we innocent unsuspecting students were compared to other students in other places.  And in the wake of your misguided little pie charts and bar graphs you left waves of exhausted, stressed and depressed Grade Niners wandering around like zombies with migraine headaches.

I know; I was one of them.  You see my Junior High LDOS (Last Day of School) emotional peak experience of freedom and joy was tainted.  Spoiled by the heavy duty pressure of the dreaded Grade 9 Departmental Exams.  “Departmental”  Adjective:  from ‘depart’ (to leave) and “mental” (mind).  Literally:  ‘lose your mind’.

Sir and/or Madam, I was one of those nerdoid students who took things like final exams VERY seriously indeed.  I fretted, sweated and regretted those Gr. 9 Departmentals so badly I didn’t even go to the Redwood Grill for Cokes and fries at the Plaza Shopping Center with my friends to celebrate LDOS.

Hon. Boss Person, it is my intention to one day present this letter to you in person and hopefully abolish those useless, harmful, stupid exams. As soon as someone invents a time machine.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Reach out to Harley with any thoughts or ideas at