Tidings Columnist




I remember the first day of the 2006-07 school year vividly. I wore jeans, a white T-shirt and flip-flops with big jewelry to spice things up. This combo had been my classic first day of school outfit for as long as I could remember; it was plain, yet still looked good, and most importantly it shouted out the crucial message that I wanted to get across. "I don't dress up or wear new clothes for the first day of school! I am not trying to impress anyone!"




Looking back now, I laugh as I realize that I actually was trying to impress everyone; just not in the obvious, brand new back-to-school clothes kind of way. I wanted people to be impressed my nonchalant approach to the new school year, as if it meant nothing more to me than any other passing day. My appearance seemed to say, "Ah, another year. And today is just another day, and in no way deserves to be dressed up for."




Nine months later, as I sat beneath the Lithia Park Bandshell and looked out across a sea of cheerful faces, I tapped my high heels on the ground excitedly and smoothed out my new dress underneath my robes. Though this may sound insignificant, this change in clothing reflected a changed person underneath. No longer was I dressed to impress, or dressed to "not impress" if you will. I was just dressed for the moment. I was dressed for the feelings brewing inside of me. I was dressed for the emotions that would boil over from time to time, erupting in tears, or laughter, or both. No longer did I feel the need to be disinterested or nonchalant, nor did I feel pressured to try too hard and be something I wasn't.




I was just me. And it was about time.




During Friday evening's graduation ceremony I let go of all of my inhibitions and just let myself go. This partially resulted in my laughing out loud more times than I could count. Some of the laughs were so intense that even knee slapping had to be incorporated into the experience, because laughing alone just didn't express the extent of my joy enough. When salutatorian Tori Ainsworth read her speech about refusing other peoples advice and making your own mistakes in life, I laughed so hard I honestly thought I might pee my pants, which in my opinion would have made the evening take a very awkward turn.




But I didn't just laugh and pee my pants. I also bawled when Em Dickey, our class president, cried as she read her speech about never wanting to grow up. I vividly remember Em back in the day when "never wanting to grow up" meant wearing pigtails every day and acting like a baby. Now "never wanting to grow up" means not wanting to leave our friends and loved ones behind. What an honest metaphor of real life. I also cried during my friends and my musical performance. We had never rehearsed holding hands, but instinctively as the music began to play, the six of us reached for one another and held on for dear life. Never have I felt safer. Never have I felt less alone.




When at last, it was time for me to take my walk down the red carpet and receive my blank diploma from Jeff Schlect, I actually felt time stand still. When he read my name aloud, and it was met with loving applause, I felt so connected to everything around me that I could barely move. I shook Mr. Schlect's hand numbly, and a warm tear fell down my cheek. I realized that in my life I want nothing more than it be filled with moments like those. I don't know where I will go or what I will do with my life (or even the next few years) but I do know one thing with absolute certainty.




I will never again approach a new adventure in jeans and a white T-shirt.