My hands were shaking as I took the papers from my sleeve and smoothed them out. I remember now a visiting author once telling us that when you speak, you should take as much time as needed to adjust the microphone. I guess that’s the attitude I had at that podium.
Then I looked out to the audience. And what I saw surprised me, and comforted me. Not hungry sharks, poised to rip my speech apart with their eyes. No, just people. Families, and friends. A whole community taking time out of their daily lives, there to support us. This wasn’t a competition. It wasn’t a debate, or a campaign. It was a celebration, and I couldn’t lose.
I took a deep breath, introducing myself with the joke my transgender friend suggested I use.
And then I spoke.
Those were some of the most amazing minutes of my life. By my perception, I spoke with grace and ease, making the audience laugh, and feel. I wasn’t nervous, not a bit. Not when I spoke about my anxiety problems, not when I sought out my parents in the second row, not when gestured to all my classmates behind me and thanked them for taking the journey with me. And definitely not when I smiled and tipped my head to yet another round of thunderous applause, this time all mine.
I learned later, not surprisingly, that because of the nine microphones aimed at me none of my classmates on the stage behind me heard my speech. I’d already read Wendy’s and Joyce’s, and I asked for my English teacher’s later on, but it was slightly disappointing that my classmates couldn’t receive the gratitude I had towards them, and the beautiful thing I had created for them. I did send it to my friends later on to read, and the entire community heard, so that was enough for me.
I walked back to my seat, relieved and so happy. Finally, it was time for us to graduate. It took maybe half an hour for all 150 or so of us to stand up and receive our diplomas. It was all very orderly—we’d practiced for about two hours that Friday.
As it came my row’s turn to line up, backstage, the girl I was sitting next to jumped up and down excitedly. It surprised me because from what I knew of her, she wasn’t exactly the type to act so dorky and excited for something like graduating. But it was a nice surprise, and I thought it was adorable. “Don’t trip,” I teased. I thought it was amazing that this event changed our usually segregated grade into a single entity.
As I walked across the stage, the people I shook hands with congratulated me on my speech. I usually don’t know how to take a compliment, but this was a special case. I was all smiles down the stage. Once we all received our diplomas and returned to the risers, we turned our tassels and graduated.
The rest of the day was filled with photos, frantic yearbook signings, hugs and goodbyes. It didn’t feel overwhelmingly sad and tearful as I thought it would. In that crowded foyer surrounded by people I loved, people who’d been with me through this ordeal for four long years, I just felt happy. I suppose that’s what graduation’s supposed to be—the celebration of a journey’s end.