We were given three hours to write our exam. Our very last. Three quiet hours to bookend these four tiring years. Thirty-four months. Twelve designated breaks, spent everywhere from Manitoba, to Miami to Manhattan, or in bed. Part-time jobs that paid and full-time jobs that didn't. Enough A's, a few B's, and a D that I'd care to forget. Today we would shoot for our last perfect score. And I brought my camera to take pictures. I figured this might be a moment that needed keeping. One of those self-making moments to tell my kids about, if I have kids - and if not my own, then someone else's. Before three hours had passed, we slipped out of the classroom to wait in the hall, holding out for the last of us to finish. For the last time, we compared answers, sharing satisfaction in a job well done, or done just well enough to pass. This would be the last time we'd all be together. Or together, like this, in this way, or something.
I remembered my first day. My eyes were still red from a full night of crying. I was homesick and hadn't had time for breakfast, which would become a habit. The first girl to talk to me became my roommate and family. The guy down the hall, the one with the tidy room and the coffee beans, became my lifeline. The stranger from home who made a home here with me, would later return home-home no longer a stranger. The beauty who said she could do it on her own... did it. And the talent who grew up worlds apart has since travelled around it and back, ten times over. Today I look at these people, and a handful of others, and I can't remember a time when they weren't there to look to, or to call late at night, or to eat with even later. To think that there was ever a time when these people were [at least to me] just people, is so strange. And yet, that first day feels both like yesterday and a million years ago, all at once.
A few weeks from now, in cap and gown, the valedictorian will say, "there were times we were scared that we'd never make it…" because that's the kinda thing a valedictorian says. But the truth is, we always knew we would "make it", and maybe that's what's truly scary.
In the first day of real heat, although we've had sun for several, we popped bottles of cheap champagne in front of our classrooms, and we drank to never going back again, like the Fleetwood song. There, in the toast, was fallacy. I felt dishonest raising up my cup. Sickly sentimental, we drank beer in the sun until the real sickness set in. And even now, out of the swelter, rehydrated and cool, I can only wonder how I'll really feel in the morning.