I’m here. That was all I thought as I stood in the Kornegay Arena hallway with all the other seniors, bouncing up and down, smiling, and laughing at the thought of what would happen that day. We were all happy to come so far. Twelve years…it felt like everything passed by in a second. From learning basic math in first grade with the cool, soccer-loving Mr. Coleman to the presidential speech I reluctantly gave in the eleventh for the sarcastic, witty Mrs. Bennett, I remembered it all. I couldn’t believe I was really standing there in a green gown with scholarly ropes and a golden stole over my shoulders. I was a graduating senior. I was afraid, surely, but also eager to get the thing I’d worked so hard for—essentially, the start of a new life. I was sick of my boring hometown, my boring school, my boring world. I was ready to move on. The seniors stood in the hallway for a good twenty minutes, and then, it was time. Everyone silenced themselves and stood straight and tall behind one another. I stood near the back, fourth tallest in my graduating class. The line moved and we began to walk forward.
As we came into the arena, I was taken aback by the number of parents, friends, family, educators, and UMO faculty in attendance. They all dressed for the occasion: skirts with beautiful floral patterns, clean cut slacks, and nice suits and buttoned up shirts. They smiled as we walked down the middle aisle. Our teachers, also dressed nicely, sat in seats along either side of us. We sat down and listened to our principal Mr. Jones give a warm welcome to all the people who had taken time out to see us graduate. We stood and turned to the audience to be recognized for numerous accomplishments such as exceptional GPAs, career concentrations, and scholarships. I only stood at a few, but I was grateful to stand at all. Matthew Shivar, our salutatorian, gave his speech, recalling to us the most hilarious, interesting, and challenging times of our school lives. Madeline Swinson, our valedictorian, gave her speech and stressed to us the importance of taking the next few years of our lives to further ourselves in our education. She reminded us to always be kind and carry the same love and compassion that Jesus did for everyone we meet. She barely made it through her speech as she was choking up so much near the end that I thought she might burst into tears.
Row by row, one by one, we came to the stage and walked across to receive our diplomas. When my turn came close, I stood at the bottom of the stage, staring directly at the black steel steps that I would have to soon walk up. I didn’t dare touch any part of the side rail until I absolutely had to. My legs felt weak as nervousness echoed throughout my entire body from my toes up. I was wondering if I could continue to stand for so long. I felt sweaty as anxiousness brushed over my body in invisible heat. I couldn’t look at the audience—it was the last thing I needed to do at that moment. I would have just frozen, like a deer in headlights. Then, out of nowhere, I heard my name.
Richard Braxton Bradley.
Was it really my turn already? I was in so much thought that I forgot who was even before me, and that anyone was even on-stage before me to begin with. I moved and quickly gripped the side rail, stepping up. I kept my head down, my eyes on my feet to be sure I didn’t trip and fall. Just the thought of something that embarrassing occurring made me want to vomit. Anna Lee Thornton, the librarian’s daughter, smiled and handed me a flower. I took it in my left hand, nervously smiled back, and kept moving forward, so as not to view the immense crowd or the people who took pictures throughout the ceremony. I reached out my hand before I’d even gotten to Mr. Jones. I was so ready to get off the stage that I couldn’t help but hurry. My legs were slowly becoming melted butter and my heart was beating out of my chest. Mr. Jones happily handed me my diploma, and I hurriedly added it to my left hand along with the flower. Then, I realized…they needed a picture. I was so ready to step down that I, almost involuntarily, turned my body toward the crowd. I wanted it over with…and, more than anything, I needed that diploma. All I could see were tens of hundreds of people, waves of camera flashes and smiles filling the room with joy. In an instant, I was no longer afraid. I don’t know what horrible thing I expected to see looking out, but I never saw it. People who didn’t even know me were happy to see me get my diploma. I smiled, shook Mr. Jones hand, looked at the school’s hired photographer, and the flash went off. Then, flower and diploma in hand, I rushed down the steps on the opposite side of the stage and back to my seat.
After all the seniors had received their diplomas, Mr. Jones lifted both of his hands, palms up, directing us to stand. We stood and turned, and Mr. Jones spoke.
“Now, introducing to you, your 2017 North Duplin Jr. Sr. High School graduates.”
The arena erupted in laughter and applause. I could only smirk to my friend Darren as we threw our caps to the sky and then made our way outside. My mom and dad were waiting for me, grinning from ear to ear. They were proud of me. They had told me a dozen times throughout my life, but, this time, I needed only look at their faces. They hugged me tightly, and a teacher from my senior year, Mrs. Nicholson, offered to take a picture of the three of us together. She took it and, for a moment after, I had to resist the urge to let tears roll down my face. I was happy, elated to know I had finally made it. There wasn’t going to be any more meaningless busy work, test after test, or exhausting senior project. I ‘d made it out of high school and into a newer, malleable chapter in my life. Now, I could call some shots, and I was on the fast track to something great. I had a new life ahead me. College would be my new chapter, my gateway to a future career as an English major.
Richard Bradley is a freshman who plans major in English. He is an aspiring writer/editor. He wrote this essay about his high school graduation and how he felt throughout that event for his freshman English class.