December 19, 2013: Just like every other day, I wake up. But something is different about this day. Today is the day I finally graduate! After years of burden, I finally have reached my ultimate goal that I set for myself ever since sophomore year. I have everything planned. Fitted with my dark, jet black, pin-striped suit, and sea-colored tie, with my shiny black shoes, hair done, spiked up in the front, and complete with my formal pea-coat sitting on my broad shoulders, I look like an accomplished man, eager for my diploma. But, one thing remains. I have one more day of school, and I want to leave it with meaning.
I walk to school as I normally do, fitted with my ice cleats so I don’t slip and fall in the slushy snow from the ice underneath. On my way, I glance left and right periodically for moose or anything out of the ordinary. It was vital to me that this day should not be ruined, but why, you ask? After all I have been through, the perception, “just one more day,” was not going to be tolerated. After today, I am done. Besides it being my graduation day, I worked too hard to let anything stand in my way now. Whatever was out there was not going to bother me. I wouldn’t let it.
Most would be nervous for their last day, especially when you are graduating right after, but not me. I have been looking forward to this for some time. Two years ago, I made a goal. After the time and effort it took me, I would graduate before my peers, no matter what it took to get me there. However that went, I was game.
For the longest time, I stressed about not seeing the end in sight. That was going to change today. Today I win, finishing academics, forever, or so I thought at the time. It is almost impossible to think of anything else when the thing you want most is right in front of you.
Who could blame me for my anticipation? I worked hard to get where I am. Some of my past teachers and the guidance counselor assigned to me would agree. Everything has been going better than I had hoped up to this point. I have not only caught up with my peers, but now I am ahead. Today, I win. To make matters even better, I am currently doing very well this semester with A’s all around. All I need to do is finish strong with at least A’s and B’s to be completely satisfied. I have kept myself to these standards during my time here, so naturally, I was not going to willfully disappoint myself.
By the time I reach school, the air warmed some or it could be the heat I produced from walking, but I think it was the first one. I am not sweating. That’s good. I take off my ice cleats and put on my ROTC shoes. At 7:30 a.m. the bell rings like always. Children crowd the halls with most standing by their lockers socializing. Others, the good students, head to class. As I walk briskly through the halls, I am complemented on my appearance to which I respond with some quick thanks and move on. I am simply beaming. I don’t have to worry about these scrubs anymore, not after today. I am sitting in class by the time the bell rings. I’m on time, punctual as usual.
Since it is the end of the semester, in all my six classes today, we are taking our final tests before Christmas break. I’m just thinking that this is my last day to take tests ever. I was so excited. As the day rolled on, the next class, lunch break, until my final class of the day, I have scored big. The teachers have logged in our final grades for the semester thus far. Straight A’s! It couldn’t be better prepared. Only one class stands between me and graduation: US government class. It is now only a matter of time.
“Oh hello Mr. Bernoski,” I say. He already knows I am graduating early.
“So, this is it huh?” he says.
“Just about,” I say determined to pass.
“One more test and then you’re out of here!”
“Yep! And so far, I have straight A’s!” I say confidently.
To which my teacher responds, “So I guess it’s up to me huh?” After nodding, he says, “Well thanks for trying to make me feel guilty if I don’t give you an A.”
“You’re welcome,” I say with a mischievous grin on my face, though I knew he would grade justly and give me what I deserved. We exchange a moment of laughter. I think he is going to be one of the people I miss about this place.
As he always said, “you earn your grade.” Now the question is, will I pull it off? And would I graduate with straight A’s? I am about to find out.
The final test of the quarter is easy as this quiz is noncumulative of the semester and is instead, testing our knowledge of the previous unit. I answer the thirty-five questions easily, being the first one done for once.
As I hand my test in, there is a sudden joy I feel inside. I take a bow, wave to my peers, and say “so long!” I’m out the door. Now heading to the school library of West High. It turned out Mr. Bernoski had put my final grade in. Yes! Straight A’s across the board! I couldn’t be happier!
It is thirty minutes until my graduation ceremony for the thirteen students who have excelled academically. I am one of those thirteen. As the ceremony starts, I see both of my parents here. I think my brother is here too although, reflecting on it, I find that I don’t remember unfortunately. I also see my favorite teachers are also here. Every single one of them, proud of my accomplishment, most of all, my parents.
You are probably thinking, “Big deal, you graduated. Everyone graduates.”
True, but not like this. I know that I was not the only one to graduate that day either and that they all worked hard, but not like me. Not in the same manner. Their situation, though well earned, had not the same challenges that I faced. They did not have to wake up every day, knowing that they are not the same and that their life is going to be a constant uphill struggle with every step of the way to reach a goal that often seems just out of reach and having to deal with the frustration afterwards.
You would probably say, “Well, everyone has struggles John” and “everyone gets frustrated with things.”
And again, I say to you, “Not like this.”
You would then probably say, “Whatever: what makes you so special?” And now I will show you exactly why this day should be remembered.
As I stated before, I worked very hard to get where I am, to which you would say, “Well, who hasn’t?”
Let me finish. The sole reason as to why exactly this day has such significance is because despite my limitations to my everyday living, caused by the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that I obtained in the year 2010, just three days after Christmas, I made it here. Despite the extra effort I had to put in, even when I became fatigued, I met the expectations of the school still. When I was given the opportunity to use my 504 program, enabling people like me with a disability to an equal education, I chose not to be or to be seen as “weak” and kept myself to the same standards as any other student with no prejudice to be associated with. I made goals when I could have just given up on life, but I didn’t. I’m still here. I’m told it is easier to give up on something than to push through the hardship, but anything that is worth it, is worth the fight because in the end you’ll be happy. I kept that in mind whenever things got tough, which they did, often, but I kept going. I persevered: I can honestly say that out of the thirteen students who graduated that day, no one could have been happier than I was. None of the others had any sort of disability, so they didn’t have to put up with constant limitation and agony every day. To see it all now, I am relieved to be done, finally done.
I accepted my trophy proudly that day. With my diploma in hand, I could now relax, completely satisfied with my work, and what it took for me to get here.
That night, we, being me and my loved ones, celebrated my victory together, my accomplishment, my long, hard-fought journey, where I am compared to where I was. The doctors didn’t even believe I was going to wake up. I’d say my parent’s faith was rewarded. I could not have gotten here without their support. That’s something worth smiling about. God has been so good to me. I cannot thank Him enough. Thank you, Lord I say. And may this day be remembered.
Now I am in college, going for my bachelor’s degree in the field of RHS, Rehabilitation and Human Services because I sincerely believe that I can help individuals who need someone to look up. I am sure God will help make me that person for the people of this world and may He use me as an embodiment and symbol of His good grace. The world needs Him now more than ever and I am proud to be of use if that is my fate.
By: John Pring