Graduating with Hope
Students in Fukushima prefecture are trying to see past the challenges of the present and envision a promising future. Some had their studies interrupted when the earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear accident in 2011.
The prefecture ran 5 high schools near the Fukushima Daiichi plant. But the massive radioactive fallout forced all of them to close. Classes have continued on a temporary basis elsewhere.
This has forced some of the students to live apart from their families.
Futaba-shoyo Senior High School once sat just 5 kilometers from the Daiichi plant. Now its students and teachers use a makeshift facility at a university 40 kilometers away.
A quarter of the old student body, 49 children, attend classes there. 17 of them are seniors, including Tatsuya Endo. He's lived nearby for the past few years.
"My first expectation was that our lives would go back to normal soon," says Endo. "But my hope was dashed. I was disappointed."
Endo lives in a serviced apartment. Fukushima prefecture offers accommodation to students who live apart from their families.
"I wanted to go back to my hometown when I moved in," Endo recalls. "But I decided to change my perspective and focus on learning various things from this place."
Most of the students need time to adjust. But they soon get used to taking care of themselves. And they make new friends.
"The students don't talk openly about their hardships or about the nuclear accident," says teacher Takeshi Nakamura. "But they must have various things to consider after the disaster displaced them from their hometowns. They must have gradually gotten over their concerns."
The 17 seniors graduated on March 1st, and are preparing for what's next.
"Keeping the memories of these past three years in our hearts, we'll look ahead and move on, feeling proud as the graduates of Futaba-shoyo," said Yuya Endo, speaking before fellow students and their parents during the school's graduation ceremony. "We could not return to our original school building. But we believe it will be filled with the smiles of future students."
The students believe the challenges they faced will only better prepare them for adulthood. "We, the graduates, will face various problems," says Shota Nishiyama. "But each one of us will be able to overcome them given what we've been through."
Tatsuya Endo says he wants to follow in his father's footsteps and become an auto engineer. "It's like my school days ended in an instant. I'm very happy to have many memories at this school."
He and many of his friends share a similar vision. They say they hope the skills they acquire down the road will help them rebuild Fukushima prefecture one day.