I live right across the street from DSU. It's been warm outside for a few days, so it wasn't unusual to see someone on campus. This person, however, was dressed in all her graduation gear. She posed for pictures taken by her family, just feet away from their vehicle. It seemed a lonely occasion. There were no friends or even classmates around. The atmosphere wasn't right. The day wasn't right.
The blue of her gown made me think not about my college graduation, but my high school graduation, for which I wore the exact same color.
It wasn't just the graduation that was special. My whole senior year of high school was one of many firsts and many lasts.
In October of that year, I attended my first political rally. My friend Cory and I skipped school and walked downtown from our houses for it, getting biscuits at Tudor's on the way. I'd brought my camera and recorded everything. We laughed when Robert C. Byrd, our frail, wheelchair-bound senator, stuck his fist in the air as he announced Anne Barth, a candidate from Congress.
In November of that year, I voted in my first election, then watched my candidate swear his oath during his inauguration on the projector at lunch.
As part of my senior trip, I took my first airplane ride all the way to Italy with my best friend.
For that trip, I got my first passport, which I promptly lost in the airport in Rome, despite having a pouch specifically for it. After searching, calling my mom and sitting with the police, a security guard found my passport as they were printing my plane ticket back to the US. The teacher who chaperones the trip still tells the story in hopes her current students will be more careful (last I heard).
It's those firsts that are so exciting, and it's the firsts you got to see. Your life will have many firsts after those.
It's those bittersweet lasts that give you closure that I hope for you to see.
My senior year was the last time my friends and I sat in a class together. It was the last lesson I learned from my teachers.
It was the last Girl Scout cookie I ate with Shaina in Mrs. Hopkins office while we skipped class.
It was the last IntaJuice smoothie and bag of McDonald's we brought to Trig class, having left campus for Driver's Ed practice.
It was the last time.
On my last day of school, I brought a scrapbook for classmates to sign. I was doing okay until my friend Nichole signed it. We had drifted apart in middle school, but when she signed my book, we both cried.
I remember the last picture of my friends and I together, taken just before graduation. Only half of us went to the same college.
I remember pushing through the crowd after the ceremony to find every favorite teacher, ever friendly classmate for one last goodbye.
What those days gave me was closure, poignant but satisfying. They say it's the end of a chapter of your life closing, but it felt more final than that. It wasn't just a chapter of my book closing. It was the end of one book in a series I hadn't finished yet.
I can't imagine finishing high school without that ending, and to all those in the class of 2020, I hope you don't have to.