On May 31, 2009, I reached one more milestone in my then-17 year old life. I became a high school graduate. I attended an all-girls Catholic school in Queens, New York and after precisely four years of complaining how lame school was and how annoying it was to wear a kilt instead of a normal skirt, I realized that I was actually going to miss it. Looking back now I realize that the week and a half leading up my graduation was the longest period of denial I have ever gone through in my young life. The truth of graduating hadn’t hit me until the day itself came around and even then it was a hard pill to swallow.
All the preparations were in place and my aunt and then-2 year old cousin had flown in from Jamaica to watch me walk across the stage to get my diploma. This was not just a huge moment for me it was also a monumental moment for my family. I would be the first person in my immigrant family to graduate from an American high school. So on the last day of May, I put on my graduation outfit and got into the car with my family and drove to the auditorium where the ceremony took place.
The atmosphere was electric with hundreds of family members and friends with fully charged cameras waiting to snap the perfect shot to show off later. In another room 254 girls all dressed in white were huddled together waiting for the signal to begin lining up. If an outsider were to analyze the situation based on our conversations alone, he would never know that we were getting ready for anything special. The topics of our conversations ranged from “What are you doing this summer?” to ” Did you see that photo shoot of Robert Pattinson in GQ?” That all changed when our Vice Principal shouted “Okay girls, time to line up!”
I had never heard my fellow classmates so quiet before. The age old adage “you could hear a pin drop” certainly applied then. The only noise was the shuffling of feet while we made our way to the door to process in. My stomach felt like a Category 5 hurricane was raging in it and I didn’t feel too steady on my feet anymore. It was at that moment walking in between two of my friends my denial melted away and was replaced by an awkward form of fear. It wasn’t just fear of tripping and falling in front of hundreds of people, it was the fear of what was going to happen next. I hadn’t allowed myself to think beyond that day and now there was no escaping what was unfolding.
We silently filed into the auditorium in perfectly timed pairs and stood in front of our seats. We sat down when we were told to and we listened while speaker after speaker talked about the importance of this moment and hope for our continued success in the future. Reflecting with friends two years later I realized that the tense quiet was the result of everyone else thinking about what the future held for them as well. Walking up to get my diploma suddenly felt completely surreal and it didn’t feel like I was totally there in the moment. Hearing my family cheer from the audience made me smile and thus my mother got the perfect picture of me mid-stride with my hand extended to receive my diploma and a gigantic smile spreading across my face. Now whenever I see that picture the memories of that day come back as if it happened just last week. Just twenty minutes after that picture was taken, after all of the diplomas were handed out and the mortarboards were thrown, I did something I didn’t think I would do. After weeks of saying “I can’t wait to get out of here. College is going to be so much more fun,” I realized that I was going to miss high school and I began to cry. I had never planned on being so emotional and neither had a fair amount of my fellow graduates. At the risk of sounding cheesy, these tears were tears of understanding, understanding that this chapter of our lives was now over and now we had to come to terms with going off in a new direction.
During the four years spent in high school, I had made lasting friendships and learned a lot about myself and for all the complaining I did in that time, I can honestly say now that I truly had a wonderful time. Graduation was both a celebration of that time as well as a signal of the end of it.