High school graduation is a time often associated with looking forward to the road ahead, fulfilling future dreams, and starting exciting new chapters in your life. The days leading up to my high school graduation challenged this thinking and caused for reflection on just how quickly our plans can be cast aside. Life can be planned out down to every detail and in one swift moment disappear and become irrelevant as only a drastic change in perspective can do.
Derrick was my best friend in high school. He was the kind of guy that you wanted to be around all the time. He was full of energy, reliable, smart, and truly cared for people in a way that most people only strive to. The customary graduation party following the last class of your high school life is a time that many will remember as one of the best days of their young life. For Derrick things changed in ways that he could not have ever imagined and his life path did not change but rather took a detour of a path unexpected.
Being the ever helpful person that he was, Derrick left the all night graduation party before the sun came up to help on his family farm. For a brief moment while driving Derrick closed his eyes and when he woke he was in a hospital bed surrounded by concerned friends and family. The proud, strong-willed Derrick was now lying helplessly attached to monitors that monotonously beeped and recorded his body’s every action. Derrick had been ejected from his vehicle and upon impact suffered a severe brain injury. The valedictorian who never believed he was better than anyone else despite his bright future and unmistakable intelligence was now facing an obstacle that would have shattered the life of anyone who encountered it.
Derrick met this challenge head on. Tragedy will show you who truly values you as a person and a friend. People that were once proud to be called a friend of Derrick’s didn’t want to be around him because he “acted different” and “would never be the same old Derrick”. These were not false statements. He had changed but many close to him would say he changed for the better. Perspective is often lost on us all during the frantic pace of everyday life and unfortunately it is often times tragedy that brings us so quickly back to reality.
Derrick was honored by his shaken classmates, teachers, and family days later at the commencement ceremony. My most vivid memory of not just graduation but of all my high school days was and will always be Derrick’s family accepting his diploma on his behalf. Grief-stricken and worn down from their days sitting next to a hospital bed, his parents and sister so proudly stood in his place that day. I’ll always remember that rush of emotion that flowed in that auditorium when a thousand people stood up in unison and applauded his family for their efforts to be so brave and so bold in such an unsure time. Sure there was laughter, smiles, pictures taken, and toasts made but when reflecting on my graduation the emotion felt from this group of grieving people will never be replaced.
Derrick endured a long road to recovery but he was not to be denied his dreams no matter what life threw at him. He graduated with honors with a degree in Engineering. He married the woman of his dreams. He has the sense of humor, intelligence, and demeanor that made him so endearing so long ago. Derrick was met with a huge road block in life. He didn’t try to drive through it and he didn’t swerve off the road trying to avoid it. He accepted what life had become, stayed focused, and made his goals a reality while discovering a new found appreciation for life.
Graduation is a time for celebration, reflection, laughter, and tears. It is also a time to be reminded to put things in perspective and cherish the memories made in your youth. Road blocks will continue to present themselves. The goal is to steer clear, learn something along the way, and always remember the lesson learned.