At the end of our 8th grade year, we had a graduation--a ceremony similar to a high school commencement. One that honors student achievements and recognizes their passing from Junior High into High School. Our administrator chose 1 boy and 1 girl to speak at this graduation and guess which girl he chose? Yep.
I was informed during lunch time about a week before the graduation that I was to give a speech, and I was delighted. To this day, I do not recall anyone following up with me about my speech; it seemed assumed that I would simply write it, read it at the ceremony, and all would live happily ever after. The day of the graduation arrived, and a friend of mine asked if I could come to her house for the afternoon where we would "hang out" then primp and prepare for the ceremony together.
I asked my dad. He questioned if my speech was ready.
"Nearly," I lied. I hadn't written a word.
He studied me for a moment. "Well, make sure you're all ready for it," he said.
"Okay, Dad," I answered with the typical parents-are-so-overrated teenager tone.
My friend and I went swimming in her pool, watched a movie, and at one point I figured I should hold true to my half-hearted promise to my dad and jot a few ideas down. I asked my friend for a piece of paper. She gave me a sheet of yellow daisy stationary. I wrote down a bible verse as an opener...then somewhere along the line figured that was enough. Maybe I was distracted by the fact that Dirty Dancing was on TV which I wasn't allowed to watch at home. (I'm not proud to say that I was a little on the sneaky side in my youth.)
We did our hair, applied our make-up, donned our dresses, and left for the graduation.
Well, you can guess how things went from there. The ceremony began. My name was called. I walked confidently to the podium. Placed my yellow daisy stationary before me, and stared out at the audience filled with parents, grandparents, and bored older siblings. My hands started to shake and my heart to pound. I had always been quick on my feet and able to ad lib speeches and presentations. But that night was different. I looked down at the bible verse, read it in a wavering voice, and then succumbed to the greatest gift God has given to women. The ability to cry at a moment's notice.
I started to cry, the microphone amplifying my sobs, and I mumbled something about how much I love my classmates. Continuing my tearful charade, I dropped my chin, shook my head as though unable to go on, then left the stage. As I resumed my seat, the girl next to me grabbed my hand and squeezed. I looked at her and saw that she was actually, genuinely crying. She nodded at me as though she understood the emotion that seemingly overwhelmed me. I smiled weakly back and slumped down in my seat. A few minutes later the administrator bent down next to me and, in a whisper, asked if I wanted to "try again." I looked as mournful as I could and shook my head no.
I crumpled the yellow daisy stationary in my hand, living with a new awareness that at that moment I was a fraud. No one--apart from my dad, I think--ever knew that the sole reason for my tears was because I simply had nothing else to say. I was a lazy, procrastinating, distracted teenager and the tietze fly of humiliation bit down hard.
Yes, I've learned from that experience (though I still find I tend to listen too often to Procrastination's alluring whisper in my ear). No, I don't believe I've ever used tears to get out of anything since then (not even the ticket for running a stop sign that I swear was a yield sign.) And, since becoming a teacher, I recognize that somewhere along the line my administrator or a teacher or someone should have given me a little prompting as to what was expected for the speech I was assigned. Even now I work with graduating seniors with commencement addresses, so a little guidance would have gone a long way in my situation. I'm not blame-shifting, I promise. But you don't put a 14-year-old in front of an auditorium full of people (many with video cameras) without actually seeing what she's planning (or not planning) to say.
So I tell you this story because it is one that I've never, ever brought into the light of day before. It is a secret I've carried the weight of for nearly 20 years. And if you are ever stuck in a graduation where a student is droning on and on to the point that you become convinced that the speech will not end before authorities are forced to carry your corpse from the auditorium on a gurney, remind yourself that it could be worse. She could be crying. And if, perchance, she does begin to cry, rest assured the experience is far more painful for her than it is for you.
top image from: bondprofessional.ca