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Commencement

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I stood at the back of the church, in the dark hallway, waiting to receive a rose and walk down the aisle. Along with me were the rest of my classmates, and we were all getting nervous and worried. One of my friends swore, and several of my peers said that they were going to faint. I thought back to the words my mother had given to me that morning. She said she knew exactly what the priest was going to say, and she started reciting his speech about commencement and how it’s a new beginning. It hadn’t changed for years; my mom would know, as she is a teacher, and so she goes every year to watch her former students receive their diplomas. I had smiled then, not realizing that I would graduate all too soon.

I had showered and gotten into my dress, and then my mom had helped me do my hair. After that, we went up to the church. I saw some of my classmates as we entered, and greeted them. As we went in, we fell silent, and walked to the back of the church, where we would go to the church basement. I was acutely aware of my high heels, as they were making the only noise in the church, and I was wishing that something would happen to drown out the click-clacking noise of my heels. I was rather embarrassed by the time I got downstairs, but it was done. I found my classmates and we all complimented each other on our various dress, the boys standing off to the side awkwardly.

I felt very self-conscious in my bright orange, rather low-cut draped dress, and I saw the eighth-grade homeroom teachers and the principal arrive. Naturally, once they got there, we all remembered that we were supposed to be quiet, and tried to make up for our lack of following directions, knowing that we would probably get reprimanded. We didn’t, however, and they simply gave us a few words before leading us upstairs. We gathered in the back hall, shrouded by the relative darkness, and lined up in the order that we were given, by our respective homeroom teacher. We were all nervous, and had just realized what we were about to do. We had all looked up to the graduates for years, and waited for our turn anxiously, until now.

However much we had longed to graduate for the past few months, we all, at the moment, wished that we could somehow stop time. Despite all of the negative things which we had suffered as a group, we still didn’t want to let our grade go. We had known each other for nine years, more than sixty percent of our lives, and we didn’t want to let go of it. Thankfully, I was in the middle of the alphabet, and so I didn’t have to go first. I watched as my classmates each stepped up to receive their roses and walk down the aisle. Soon, too soon, it was my turn. After whispering quickly about how to hold the rose with my partner, we walked up in tandem, as I was struck by how much it paralleled the entrance to a wedding. There were many people waiting for our arrival happily, there was a song playing as we walked down the aisle, and we were nervous. Of course, if this was a wedding, at least one legal in the eyes of my religion, either my partner or I wouldn’t be there; the Catholic Church doesn’t allow same-sex marriages. We got our yellow roses and started walking, as I wished more and more that we would just get to the front already, and be done with this. I wasn’t a big fan of attention, so this was rather nerve-wracking for me.

As we got to the front, I realized that we were supposed to bow towards the altar. Okay, I got that done, seriously hoping that my underwear wasn’t showing when I bowed. Then I turned, poised to walk and then step into my designated spot at the front of the church, when I realized something; I was supposed to put my rose in the urn flanking the gold gates by the altar. Great. I hastily put it in the urn, noticing that mine stuck out a little bit more, but I couldn't help the matter. I walked into the pew, hoping that nobody noticed my faux pas, and soon the rest of my class filed in. I was very happy to see Katie, the girl sitting to my left, as I enjoyed talking to her and knew that I could confide in her, or ask for her help, and she would be okay with that. I started talking to her, quick bullets of information or worry that probably didn’t go unnoticed by the congregation, but at the moment I wasn’t worried about that. I talked to her briefly throughout the service, even though I was under clear orders not to do so, and I knew that I was being watched by everyone. The Mass started, and I watched as several of my middle-school teachers went up and read the Mass’s readings, which focused on love, friendship, and happiness.

I paid more attention to the Mass itself than I had in a long time, as I was in the front, and it would be my last Mass at my former school (we don’t go to church there on Sundays). Father Joe’s slow drone started, as he walked down towards the crossing. He gave us his homily, specialized for graduation Mass. He intoned (yes, I was thinking solely of how I was so lucky to have an intoning priest right here, in front of me) many words about how we all have our special talents, and how we should use them to give back to God. It was all right, much better than most of his homilies, but I didn’t pay much attention. I was only focused on how I would never see eighty percent of my classmates again. The teachers stressed that we should enjoy that moment, but I couldn't, however much I tried. Father Joe’s head scanned over all of us, as if he were making sure that he was giving the message to every one of us. Well, either that or noting the ones who weren’t paying attention so he could reprimand them loudly (not like that’s ever happened or anything; just at about every Mass on Wednesdays).

We went up to Communion, as I was earnestly trying not to succumb to the temptation of talking, and I watched as my former teachers served me. We went back to our pews, and knelt in prayer. As the line dwindled, Katie whispered to me, “My mom brought her.” I looked up, and saw who I thought was my first-grade teacher. She had retired many years ago. Perhaps she was just someone’s grandma who merely looked like Sister Pauline. I tried to focus and pray. Soon, it was time for the closing song. I whispered, “Oh, no.” It was a song I absolutely loathed. In an act of non-flamboyant rebellion, I simply didn’t sing. I didn't care.

Father Joe left the main church area after the Mass was over, and came back after changing out of his vestments. He sat down, as the principal, Mr. Ragatz, got up to the front of the church and gave a speech. The principal talked about how we were a great class, though he had only known us for nine months, and the importance of character, among other things. Father Joe sat down in one of the chairs on the side and started grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I really wished he would stop, but he didn’t. Mr. Ragatz told us to stay true to ourselves and that this was a special moment (which most of us, if not all of us, had figured out by then). Several people got recognized for scoring well on exams, and thus getting certificates, and the time until we received our diplomas was going faster and faster.

Finally, it was time. I was filled with apprehension and nerves. The homeroom teachers called us up by name, as we each received our diplomas and went to stand up in the apse for our graduation photos. I was thankful for the fact that my last name was in the middle of the alphabet, as I wouldn’t want to be one of the first graduates. That seemed rather intimidating. I watched as my peers filed out of the pews, one by one, and soon, it was my chance. I watched Anni, my sister, go up and receive hers, and then it was my turn.

I fervently wished that there would be a nice little natural disaster or something to divert the congregation’s attention from me, but there was no such luck. I walked up to the front of the church, hoping that I appeared calm, and took my diploma with my right hand. I wasn’t sure why I did that, as I am left-handed, but I clearly wasn’t thinking. I shuffled it awkwardly for a moment, and then shook Mr. Ragatz’s hand. I walked up to my spot, front and center (as usual), and watched the rest of the graduates proceed. After everyone had received their diplomas, our family members were able to take pictures. However, none of us really liked smiling for extended periods of time, so we stopped looking nice very quickly. We walked outside to the steps outside of the church, where they took more pictures. I don’t know if our families just weren't sure if we’d make it through high school, or what, but they were all very eager and excited. After many minutes of grimacing while pretending to smile (or in my case, talking, because I didn’t care how I looked, thus making me look like I was swearing or something), it was finally over. Our extended families walked around, praising us and our general appearances, even though most of them couldn’t really see us clearly, and taking more pictures. Ordinarily, I would have gotten seriously irked, because all of the attention really wasn’t my thing, but I was just happy to be around my friends for probably one of the last times. Even though I was rather hungry, at least for a while, I didn't want it to end.




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