“Never say goodbye because goodbye means leaving and leaving means forgetting.”
-Winnie the Pooh-
One day you’re sitting on a bus thinking “I really don’t want to go to school”, and the next you’re sitting on the bus thinking “I’m going to miss these losers”.
You’re walking into the building on the first day of kindergarten, you don’t know anyone. You take a seat at that tiny round table with the tiny chair and your name written across the top. You’re scared out of your mind, but you sit down and color the picture on your desk anyway.
Flash forward thirteen years and there you are with all your friends you’ve known since forever. They’re no longer strangers, they’re classmates. The class of 2015 to be exact.
Rewind to May 15, 2015, 8 a.m. There we are, all dressed in caps, gowns, tassels, cords, all of us taking a group picture. It’s graduation practice and you’re looking around in the never ending sea of green and white people. You realize there’s only one person out of all 204 students in your graduating class that you don’t know, and you nonchalantly ask him what his name is and fall into a casual conversation.
- Meet all of my classmates
Now you practice lining up in last name alphabetical order and you’re with the same group you knew you’d be with.
You help teachers go through the list of who is present-the expected duty of a student council officer- and you explain that Alex is on his way and Sean won’t be attending the graduation ceremony. It’s all a simple event, you aren’t emotional yet.
You practice the walk around the track in front of what will soon be the audience, then practice the speeches and the diploma awarding ceremony on the football field. Then you’re sitting in the sun baking with all of your friends, your memories, and you’re begging the man who’s putting the event together to stop talking and release you to go home. Still no feelings.
You go back home and sit on your bed, flipping through the yearbook you helped make. You re-read everyone’s messages for the millionth time. Where your boyfriend wrote something semi-cheesy, where Andrew wrote “that white kid with legs”, the way he assumes you’ll remember him. Where your best friend took up a whole page recapping the memories you made when you only met each other a year ago.
Then it’s time to get ready. Your family is getting dressed up, hair, makeup, flannel, dresses, the whole nine yards. You put on your dress, a beige dress that comes up above your knees—the shortest thing you’ve ever worn in public. You didn’t fix your hair, it’s naturally spiral curled. Your makeup is still fresh from practice. You grab your cap, gown, student council drape, tassel, and your phone. It’s time to leave the house.
Still no emotions.
You’re approaching the high school parking lot and you see everyone and their brother walking, driving, parking, breathing, watching, looking for graduates that are arriving. You realize this will be your audience. SO. MANY. PEOPLE. You put your glasses down in your dad’s truck and you hop out and go to the gym to line up. There you see your friends and you wish them good luck, then there you are again.
We’re talking, we’re laughing, we’re getting our pennies for our senior prank. Then the teachers announce there’s seconds left until you walk outside. Everyone starts to cheer before they open the door to the field. We walk out in order. As soon as you leave the building you see them- the audience covers three sets of giant bleachers, they cover the grass, the top section around the field, they lean against the fences that overlook the field. They’re everywhere. It’s like you’re standing on the fifty yard line during a college football game. You’re nervous. You ask Tyler if he’s nervous, but he’s a guy, of course he tries to lie and say he’s not.
You’re walking through the crowd and down the steps, then you’re walking around the track. They’re taking pictures, shouting names, you’re making jokes with the guys in line around you about how it feels like a game of I spy. Your family yells to you and you look up and smile, then you walk through the tunnel made of all your teachers. You’re walking to your designated seat in the middle of the football field, in front of the stage.
- Say the pledge
- Band plays the National Anthem—your classmates sing along
- Ann makes a speech
- Avery makes a speech
- Valedictorian and Salutatorian speak
The principal speaks about the three young men you lost. Timothy, Matt, and Maleke. All lost to tragic accidents during the last two years. All loved, all missed. We honor them. We remember the memorial tree that student council planted for them. We remember our lost lions, we remember that we are lion strong. Then the superintendent makes a speech about continuing our education. Her three words were “Don’t stop here.” You’re in tears.
The first row is made up of honor graduates, they line up and have their names called. They receive their diplomas. The crowd cheers as row upon row is called. Your classmates high five each other. Then it’s your turn.
You get in line and make your way towards the stage. Mrs. Charity is calling the names. First, middle, last. The teachers are sitting to your right, and at the head of the line is Mrs. Grizzle, congratulating everyone. The list of people ahead of you narrows. It gets to the guy in front of you.
“Tyler Ashton Sudduth”
*Claps and cheers*
“Leighton Paige Sullivan”
You’re walking across the stage, your feet doing all the thinking. You shake hands with the superintendent, then with the principal as he hands you your diploma. You pause so the camera man can take a picture. You head to your seat, all the while fussing at yourself for forgetting to hand the principal your penny.
Everyone was to hand the principal a penny so he would be confused and have a pocket full of pennies. A harmless and consequence-less senior prank. You get to your seat, disappointed, and let your penny fall to the ground.
The last row goes up. You can’t wait to congratulate Kendrick on winning the Outstanding Senior award. They call the last name, Chimeng, and you all cheer because you know it’s over. Your classmate Maddy sings Alma Mater with her boyfriend, a beautiful duet, and you’re congratulated one last time.
A hat flies. Time stops as you all look up at it flying alone in the air. Then come 203 more. All you seen in the lit up football field is hats. Green with green and white tassels flying through the air. It’s the most beautiful moment you’ve ever witnessed. Everyone grabs their caps off the ground and unzips their gowns, starting to go find their loved ones and say their goodbyes.
You walk through the crowd, knowing you need to leave as soon as possible so your mom can go to work. You say goodbye to your best friend, congratulate classmates you pass, hug Braxton, say goodbye to Matthew, hug Cheyenne, hug Megan, and look for your boyfriend and family.
You go into the building to pick up your actual diploma from the teachers. You take tons of pictures and you say goodbye to your boyfriend as you leave the school, knowing it will be a long, long time until you see it again. It was just rebuilt this year, we were the last in the old building, we went through all the stages of construction, and we were the first to graduate in the new building. Now you’re saying goodbye to it.
We are the 51st class to graduate from our school. Our first lost classmate was #51 on the football team. We remember him as #51, Matt Walters. Many other counties supported us through his passing, he is #51. We’re the 51st class, this year’s yearbook is the 51st yearbook at the school, and our graduation year is 15, 51 backwards.
You’re now a high school graduate. You’re an adult. You’re about to start college and make a life for yourself and all you can think of is the moment when the caps were in the air. That beautiful moment that will forever define the crossing into adulthood from childhood.
I am a lion and a lion I will stay.