Monday, May 21, 2012

We Are Young

Sitting on the mountain, on that already sweltering early May morning, I almost wished I could steal their youth from the air. It felt electric, energized, and I breathed it in as if it might take me back ten years, to where they stood now.

I envied them. I envied the hopefulness and optimism that now coursed through their veins, like a sweet elixir fueling their dreams. I remembered feeling that, too, all those years ago; I remembered the possibilities that seemed just within my grasp; I remembered looking forward to a future in which I would finally call the shots.
But at this particular graduation, I noticed the students experiencing something that I did not remember, something that just wasn’t a part of my high school experience. And for this, I envied them even more.
Fifteen graduates were lined on that stage. Fifteen unique, vivid youths ready to conquer the world. Only fifteen. Not thirty. Not 100. Not 500. Only fifteen.
Their experience was unique, enviable. Lovely. Most of them had grown up together. Thirteen years together. Not rare but still unique in the fact that their class was so small, forever bonded by memories, experiences, and friendships that more closely resembled family.  
My high school years, on the other hand, were neither unique nor enviable. I expect that my experience resembled the experience of many. I was a wall flower, invisible, a lone wolf. I didn’t fit in with a particular clique, so I didn’t fit in at all. I was too different, too weird, too everything.
When I sat waiting to graduate that May evening all of those years ago, I don’t recall feeling particularly sad. I knew I would never miss those high school years of heartache and pain. I knew I wouldn’t miss being lonely, being self-conscious, being an outcast.
But the fifteen who sat on that stage in front of me now, they taught me something new, something valuable and sweet that I’ll hold on to for years to come.
They were sad, sad not only because they grew up together and were going to miss each other but also sad because they were going to miss something infinitely more important, something that was impossible to get back.
I’m still young. At twenty-nine, I’m not one of those women who laments about how old I’m getting or worries over the years ticking away. I try to live a youthful life, with laughter, trips to Disney World, fruit roll-up lunches, an over-abundance of cats. You know the usual.
But when I was waiting to graduate, waiting to walk across that stage and into my new life, I wasn’t thinking about what I might be losing, what I would never be able to get back.
These kids were. You could tell it in every word they said, in the tears streaming down their faces. They knew that the days of after-school snacks, of family dinners, of tears in their parents’ arms, of bike rides with the neighbor’s kids, of catching lightning bugs at dusk—those days were coming to a close. This moment, a proud, exciting moment was the beginning of something new, but at the same time, it was the ending of something equally important, something that is precious and fleeting and beautiful.
I tried not to cry with them as the graduation came to a close. I struggled not to grab the hand of my Daddy, who was sitting next to me, and hold it like I did when I was a little girl. But I kind of wish I had.
These kids were incredibly lucky. Lucky to have grown up in the comforting, supportive arms of a very small school. Lucky to have found each other and the friendships they so obviously treasured. But even more than that, they were lucky to be wise enough to realize that saying hello to the future also meant saying goodbye to a pretty darn good past.

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