Today marks a decade since that night… a decade since our high school graduation. My friend and classmate already posted about it here on her blog – which is also linked on my sidebar – complete with pictures. In the one of the entire class, I’m in the middle of the second row from the back in the bright pink with the long straight hair (by the time I donated it a year later, it was almost to my waist). I’m also on the right in the second-to-last picture and in the blue in the last one.
It doesn’t take much effort at all to call up that night in my mind. I can still feel it… wearing white heels I wasn’t practiced in, heart hammering, red satin skirt swirling around my ankles, making my way down the dimly lit aisle, trying to keep the right pace with the solemn processional music… We didn’t have a ‘traditional’ American graduation, because we weren’t a ‘traditional’ American class, nor were we in America for that matter. [In case you’re new here: I am a Missionary Kid and graduated from high school on a mission center in Papua New Guinea, in the South Pacific.] Only one of our class of thirty wore a black cap and gown and I don’t know where he got them from.
I survived the walk up the steps onto the stage without tripping, and sat next to my friend in the black plastic chairs. We were allowed to chose our own seating, for which I was glad because the two of us were on opposite ends of the alphabet. I honestly don’t remember much of the address, but I do remember making my way across the stage and grinning with a combination of pride and embarrassment as my brothers stood to cheer (everyone else clapped). I remember the handshake and the feel of that padded dark blue folder which guarded the diploma; I still have it.
Then things got more unconventional. I exited behind the stage, following the classmates who had gone before me, and found my way out the back of the building. Down the steps, and around the side in the dark, on the little ditch trail – my shop teacher was thoughtfully there with a flash light, I hadn’t thought of that part. Then waiting in line at the back, waiting, waiting for the last class-member to come around the side. The audience is now looking at an empty stage…
This part is somehow sharpest in my memory. The music changes uptempo, the disco ball hanging from the middle of the ceiling blazes, scattering pieces of colored light like weightless confetti and two columns of new graduates make a triumphant entry. Clunky shoes forgotten, grinning fit to break my face, clutching that blue folder in my sweaty left hand. I did it! We all did it! We all walk faster than we’re supposed to, but with the beat of the music and the incredible rush of the accomplishment, we can’t help it. People clap and cheer and whistle. Back on the stage we pass a microphone down the rows and each stand to say where we are planning to go next, our school and major if we know – the thirty of us will be scattered across the world.
After it was over, we came down off the stage to hugs and congratulations. At some point I asked one of the ladies who’d done the decorating and she gave permission to clip down one of the little styrofoam and glass disco balls that had hung among the silver decorations above the front of the stage – I still have that too. We moved to the reception in a different building. It’s a blur of posing for pictures, standing around grinning, the kidding from my brothers, the hugs all around. There was a piece of cake at some point.
I think it was at the reception where the sense of unreality started to be clearer. It had been there before, but was masked by the mixed anxiety and anticipation of the ceremony itself. But now, here I was, at the reception, officially graduated – what now? I was unable to see ahead.
Oh, I knew I was going to a college in the States, but I’d never visited it. I knew life would go on, that my parents and I had plans to spend the summer traveling and visiting relatives, and then there would be school, but I couldn’t see beyond that. I didn’t know what I “wanted to be when I grew up”, I had no major picked out, no real expectations of college, no five- or ten-year plan. More than the lack of a goal, I simply couldn’t picture a life so different from what I’d always known. I’d been back to the US less than two years previous, it wasn’t that I was ignorant. I just couldn’t see past the separations that were coming, past the massive changes looming in the next few days, to any sort of clear picture of the future.
When the reception ended, we left our relatives and went to the after-grad party, just our class and the chaperons in one big house. It was almost nothing like I imagine such parties in the US (especially these days), but it fit us so well. It is a bittersweet memory for me for so many reasons… we’d been a class divided on so many lines, but that night I remember finally, finally feeling like a unit. Much too late, because it was the last time we’d ever be all together. I remember signing yearbooks, talking to people I normally wouldn’t, sharing memories and plans and smiles and hugs, slowly coming down off the rush of graduation. One clear image in my head is a Canadian classmate sitting cross-legged on the long wooden table so he didn’t have to stretch, hopped up on coffee, clearly intending to stay up all night, while he and seven or eight others played a multi-deck game of Liar (to use the polite name for it). Eventually I reached my curfew, extended just for that night, and left with my ride home at three a.m.
The next morning is etched just as clearly in my memory – getting up after only four hours home, walking the dirt road up the hill to where my friend lived, starting the good-byes already. Hugging her neck – the one on the left in both those photos at the end of the blog post I linked earlier; the four of us were pretty inseparable Senior year – holding back the tears, watching her and her family drive away in that blue pickup truck with the cargo cage on the back full. I was lucky, I’d see her again in a few months at her brother’s wedding, but after that it would be another four years. That was just the beginning of what I have come to call the Week of Tears; daily departures of people I had seen every day, some I had known most of my life, pain like I had never felt before knowing that I wouldn’t see most of them again. But that is another post, perhaps.
For now, ten years… I, who couldn’t see the future, who literally just couldn’t see past the pain, have made it to ten years. I can’t answer the “are you where you wanted to be” question, because I didn’t have a place I wanted to be. But I am in a good place. Adjusting took longer than I thought it would, and sometimes the pain still gets me, but good things and growth and healing have happened. The four of us still keep in contact, scattered across the world though we are, and continue to make good memories. I wonder what memories we’ll have to share in another ten years?