The gymnasium was filled with people, all here to watch us. Like an ocean, the seats flowed all the way to the back doors. I never saw a graduation ceremony or expected to be apart of one; yet, here I stood about to walk across the stage. My friends Kate and Jeremy were peering out the curtains with me, waving at their families.
My own mother was sitting near the middle, a good seat in front of where we would be receiving our diplomas.She was alone with an empty seat to her right- he wasn’t gonna show. I always knew he wouldn’t, but my heart still hurt in that moment. My mother noticed me and grew a smile. She waved and mouthed a hello. I did the same, and retreated back behind the curtains.
Everyone was chatting to each other, excited and nervous. There was almost fifty graduates in our year, one of the largest graduating classes in the history of Davenport. Since it was a small town,
everybody knew each other and almost all of us got along. I felt a hand tap my shoulder.
“You’re really rocking that gown.” It was Mrs. Fortosky, my band teacher. She helped me so much in school, earning her the spot of favorite teacher in my book. “You've really progressed these past three years! You seem so grown up now.”
I threw my arms around her in joy, as we both laughed. “I have you to thank for that.”
We let go and stood back. “It was your hard work that got you here.”
Her eyes stared at me with pride, and I could see tears starting to shed. They were tears of joys, but I still felt myself starting to cry because of them. I knew it’d be awhile before I’d get to visit from University.
It was strange, moving by myself away from this town. I thought about that first day, when my mother first drove us here. Those feelings that day were bitter. I hadn’t wanted to stay, but now I didn’t want to leave. In four years, this place became home to me.
The ceremony began, so Mrs. Fortosky took her seat out on the stage, with her colleagues. Principal Larson stood and walked to the podium to give his speech.
“Welcome, and thank you for attending Davenport High’s graduation ceremony this year. I would like to say a congratulations to all the students who will be receiving…”
His voice began to trail off as I began to think about the moments to come. I’d be the sixth person out, which I already felt unprepared for, but that wasn’t what had me worried. The papers in my pocket seemed to get heavy as I thought more about it. Valedictorian, a honor given to only one student from the graduation class, and that just happened to be me.
Almost three months ago, I was nominated for the position. With the help of Mrs. Fortosky, I wrote an excellent speech for the voting session. Yet, the actual speech I would be giving had to be written by myself, because it needed to come from the heart. So I was nervous that nobody would like it.
As the anxiety began to grow, I began to get sweaty. That’s when I shook myself back to reality.
“Now let us begin with giving out the diplomas. Mrs. Fortosky will be handing the diplomas to our graduates this afternoon.” As Mr. Larson finished, an eruption of applause echoed throughout the gym.
They began calling names, and one by one the people in front of me started to go out. Before too long, I stood next and it felt like time slowed down. Forever seemed to pass until I was finally called.
I swallowed the lump that formed in my throat, collected my mind together, pushed out through the curtains. Hundreds of eyes peered, as I walked towards Mrs. Fortosky. Each step felt like an effort. My legs felt weak, but it passed as I reached her. She passed me the Diploma with one hand, and shook my hand with the other. Before I left, she pulled me in a bit closer.
“I’m proud of you.”
A stupid grin grew across my face, and a sense of accomplishment took away any other nervous feelings. I moved of the stage, and took a seat beside the other graduates at the very front. As each name was called, I clapped with the crowd, but I clapped harder when Jeremy and Kate came out. Finally the last person was called out.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mr Larson said, giving a warm smile, “I give you the graduating class of 2030.”
Another round of applause erupted through the gym, but unfortunately, we didn’t have caps to toss into the air. Yet, the ceremony was not over, and when the cheering died down.
“Now, I would like to call on the graduation class’ valedictorian. She has shown excellence throughout her years here, and has overcome challenges that would have made school difficult. So please join me in welcoming back to the stage, Erin Lalla.”
With a long deep breath, I stood back up. The clapping slowly disappeared from hearing as I moved back to the stage. It seemed like a moment of clarity had come to me, and everything drowned out from that moment. I reached the stage and shook Mr. Larson’s hand. As I turned to the crowd, I still felt deafened to everybody. Was I going to be able to talk?
After a moment of silence, I found my courage.
“Good afternoon,” I began, smiling as all the memories of the past four years flooded back to me, “parents, family, friends, teachers, and honoured guests. Thank you for coming out today.”
I I closed my eyes to breathe again. At that moment, my hearing seemed to return. I heard the door to the gymnasium open, someone late to the graduation arrived.
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