After the walk
I am the type of person who cries at the movie theater. I cried at the end of “La La Land.” I cried watching both “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory” (even though I had a pretty solid hunch that both Nemo and Dory would eventually be found). I cried during “The Blind Side,” “Safe Haven,” “Up,” “High School Musical 2″…the list goes on.
For me, it’s difficult to not get emotional, especially when a character leaves behind loved ones or what is familiar to him or her. I sympathize with the feeling of being completely lost in the world, and my strong connection to both my hometown of Peachtree City and the people in my life makes me easy prey when a movie wants to pull at my heartstrings. The thought of being lonely—completely and utterly lost—gets to me.
These emotions may simply be a family thing. My mom shed a few (aka several) tears during fifth grade graduation when I walked down the halls of Braelinn Elementary for the last time, and she cried on my first college visit during spring break freshman year. She explains that letting go of her only child is an unfathomable concept because for a mother in her situation, she has one shot, a first and a last all wrapped into one. While the thought of being her entire world is a hefty burden to carry at times, I understand what it’s like to only have one chance to get things right and to make an impact.
So maybe these feelings run in the family, or maybe this is all a part of the common human experience. An individual lives, learns, loves and eventually lets go.
Despite my normal patterns of catharsis, I didn’t cry before, during or after the graduation ceremony. Not one tear escaped my eyes at Baccalaureate and the grandparents’ breakfast, and most shocking of all, I didn’t cry during Senior Walk. The person who cries while watching animated movies and animal rescue commercials was stoic for once. On such a momentous occasion. Odd.
Actually, it isn’t strange whatsoever. While some seniors blubbered over the thought of parting with one another or others got emotional at the thought of venturing away from “The Bubble,” a sense of serenity washed over me. I had fulfilled the first stage of the common human experience–I lived. I lived life to the fullest and took advantage of every opportunity and open door that came my way. I even danced to “I Lived” by OneRepublic at the grandparents’ breakfast as an homage to my high school years.
As for the second component, there is no doubt that I learned a great deal during my high school years. My education provided me with a great deal of knowledge that prepared me for what college has to offer, and the life lessons I take away with me will influence my character and relationships for years to come.
It goes without saying that I loved, which addresses the third part of this common experience. I loved my friends and family, my hometown, my school, my world here in Peachtree City. I sought love, and in turn, love found a home in me.
The fourth stage, letting go. I never imagined that I would come to terms with letting go, especially since I lived, learned and loved so deeply. Tears never found their way to my eyes, and the pit in my stomach that I so often develop when I get emotional never came.
As a portion of the time-old saying goes, “if you love something, let it go.” When the time came to walk across the stage at graduation, I was ready to let go.
It has been a week since we, the Class of 2017, walked across the stage on our home turf. Honestly, it’s strange to think that Starr’s Mill has technically been our “Alma Mater” for a full seven days and that we no longer have the ability to refer to ourselves as high school students. This collective “we,” this unit that has acted as one for the past four to seven years, is now merely 340 separate individuals who all happen to share a similar moniker of their pasts.
During graduation practice, Principal Allen Leonard and assistant principal Sandy Martin both explained the strict guidelines in place for how we were expected to dress for the ceremony. Guys were required to wear black slacks, black socks, white shirt, dress tie and black shoes. Girls had to wear black dresses with no additional colors exposed. Groans and exasperated sighs rippled throughout the crowd, but the rules in place had a symbolic meaning far beyond our temporary discomfort. This uniformity was a symbol of our last stand as one entity.
Throughout our high school careers, we developed and blossomed independent of one another. While our paths may have crossed numerous times, we each created a future and legacy on our own through the clubs and organizations we joined, the different classes we took, the sports or fine arts we participated in, and the friendships and connections we made.
Until we wore our “one size fits all” caps and “do not alter these in any way” black gowns at graduation, the only other time that we as a class had been on an equal playing field was when we first entered the doors of Starr’s Mill as a freshman class. Yes, we wore numerous medals of distinction or donned our cords of many colors, but we were essentially all the same. This standard graduation attire masked our differences and cleaned the slate that we had so fervently covered with our memories and accomplishments over the past four years.
The next time the majority of the Class of 2017 will be together will be at a high school reunion, and even then, only a select number of those who have not roamed too far or those who have the ability to come back will be together again. From this day forward, there truly is no collective Starr’s Mill High School Class of 2017 but rather a large number of individuals who can all claim the Mill as their own.
After the walk, there is no physical unit binding us to one another. Our shouts and laughs will no longer fill the classrooms of the Mill, and our footsteps will no longer echo down the long, white hallways. After the walk, the Class of 2017 begins to leave a lasting impact on the nation, showing what Generation Z has to offer for the future. After the walk, these alumni receive additional degrees, join the workforce, explore the world, create new families.
After the walk, we, the Class of 2017, will live, learn, love and let go all over again.