A/N: This is dedicated to and inspired by my dear friends Elizabeth and Corinne, the valedictorian and salutatorian of the Milton High School class of 2010. For about two weeks I've listened to them brainstorming ideas for their speeches they have to give at graduation and I've given them a few of my own ideas, like just turning something in for now and then babbling about something completely off topic on the day of, but they didn't really go for any of them. Bummer. Any way, I thought I'd turn some of my own ideas into a story, which is what your are (hopefully) about to read right now. Let me know what you think :)
"And now I'd like to welcome Miss. Angela Summerfeld, the valedictorian of the class of 2010, to the podium," the superintendent announced, his voice echoing through the open stadium.
The parents and relatives packed into the stands and the grass surrounding the football field where the stage was set up applauded courteously. The graduates, dressed in their red and black graduation gowns, looked bored. Nothing that Angela had to say would be worth listening to, so most of them were zoning out, watching the few puffy white clouds travel across the bright blue sky.
Angela looked up from her place in the front row. This was supposed to be the greatest moment of her life, but she couldn't seem to bring herself to stand and make the walk up the small stairs to the platform. Something just didn't feel right.
Sighing, she pulled herself from the folding chair and climbed the three stairs up to the stage. The walk to the podium, though only a few feet, seemed a mile away. For the past several weeks she had envisioned all the ways she could mess this up. Tripping was not out of the question.
She reached the podium and looked out over the large group of people spread out in front of her. Her heart began to race slightly and a bead of sweat dripped down from below her cap. Clearing her throat, she looked down at the speech that had been left on the podium for her. Every word had been carefully put together in just the right way to make the right impression on everyone attending, but now, it didn't seem right. Ignoring the feeling, she began her speech.
"Parents, teachers, my fellow members of the class of 2010. Though it may sound corny for me to say, this is the day we've been preparing for our entire lives. Everything from our first words, to our first steps, from our first gold stars, to our first A pluses, from our first crushes, to our first breakups, have been a part of making us who we are. Each of us is about to embark on a journey, a journey different from any we've ever faced so far, and everything we've learned so far will help us on that journey."
Angela stopped reading and looked up at her peers sitting before her. Only a few were actually paying to what she was saying; the rest were either blatantly not paying attention or staring at her with glazed expressions. These were the people she had spent thirteen years of her life with. Thirteen years of cold shoulders and silent mocking. Did she really think she would make an impression on these people with a few carefully constructed paragraphs of cookie-cutter wisdom you could find in any graduation speech? Of course not, it was a ridiculous idea. There was only one way to do it, and she would leave her mark on these people, show them what she had learned during high school, what she had held back for so long.
She cleared her throat again. "I'm sorry," she said, holding up her speech and ripping it in half right down the middle, then ripping it a few more times for good measure. She could hear Principal Metcalf shift awkwardly in his seat behind her, obviously concerned about what she was doing. She put the pieces of paper on the shelf inside the podium and looked back out at the crowd.
"I was supposed to come up here and give you all five minutes of looking to the future and reminiscing about everything we've been through since kindergarten. Now that I'm standing here, looking out at all of you, I can't do that. The reason? Most of you haven't lived the life I and people like me have lived," Angela began to rant, the words coming to her out of thin air.
"Every day we had to deal with the quiet whispers about our appearance and our intelligence. We aren't deaf and we aren't stupid. We could hear what you were saying, Sarah Nadar and Erica Morrison," she continued, shocked at how easily she had incorporated specific names into her speech.
"Every day we got taken advantage of because we were afraid of confrontation, afraid to mess up the status quo that you all decided was so important to put in place so you could be the biggest fish in the pond with the power to do anything. That's right, I'm talking to you, asshole who cuts me off in the parking lot every day," she said, pointing right at Marcus Flint who was sitting near the back, sprawled in his chair like he owned the world. "You're too fricking obsessed with your own needs you can't take five seconds to think that scraping the front end off my car will not get you out of school any faster than the rest of us. The world does not revolve around you. Personally, I hope you don't get it through your thick skull and it comes back to bite you hard in the ass.
"And then the heartbreaks. We've all been there, right? Wrong. 'Oh, so-and-so cheated on me so I dumped him.' 'Oh, so-and-so broke up with me. I need to find a rebound guy to have a one night stand with.' Yeah, I've heard 'em all and you know what? You can all forget about your problems because I've been duped three times. You'd think I'd learn after the first time, but no, I decided to give the idiot population of guys at this school a second and third chance. After being stood up twice at my own house and showing up to one dance to see my 'date' with his arms around another girl's waist, I finally learned my lesson. Jimmy Hanson, Brian Landon, and Charlie Leinert, you can all go to hell.
"I'm sure all of you parents are shocked by what I'm saying. 'How can the school let a young woman with obvious mental issues have a microphone and the number one spot in the class?' you must be thinking. Let me tell you how. Every day I kept my mouth shut about everything that happened, keeping it all to myself. Only a handful of people were willing to give me the time of day, so I had no one to really share it with any way. Since I had no one to complain to loudly in the hallway, I actually did my school work. That's right, I was the quiet little girl that did everything she was told and became the model student.
"Now I stand here before you, telling you not about the optimism the school provides for everyone, but the horrible social environment your kids create for everyone else. I'm a product of this mutated society and I am not sorry to say that I will gladly never see any of you again until you come begging to me for a job when I'm CEO of a billion-dollar company. A few of you will get my sympathy, you've done nothing to me, but most of you will get the same treatment you gave me. I will laugh as I turn you out on the streets and watch you suffer like I have."
Angela paused for a moment to take a deep breath. She glanced back at the row of school board officials sitting behind her. They all wore shocked expressions, none of them able to move to stop her rant. Turning back to the crowd she took in the stunned silence. The only sound was the slight crackle of electrical interference over the PA system. Even the birds had stopped chirping.
"I have one last thing to say," she said finally, her tone quieter now. "High school has been a learning experience for many of us. Some of us have learned more than others, some of us have learned academic lessons and life lessons. Then there are those of us who have learned more about ourselves." She shook her head, a small smile coming across her face. "I've learned that I'm not the quiet girl that does what she's told and doesn't question anything. I've also learned that I'm not the grudge-holding, anger-management-problem-having, selfish person you see before you today. I haven't completely found who I am, but I found who I don't want to be. I encourage all of you, as you go out into the world, to really think about who you are, what kind of mark you want to leave on the world, and what effect you have on the people around you. Thank you."
The stadium was dead silent. Angela's breath caught in her throat as she looked out over the crowd, waiting for some kind of reaction, whether positive or negative. The silence seemed to stretch out forever before, finally, the sound of single person clapping echoed through the stadium. She looked around for the source to see a girl she barely knew stand up from the sea of red and black and few rows back. Even at that distance, Angela could see the girl was smiling and a tear seemed to be falling down her cheek.
As if taking this as their cue, several others started to stand from their chairs, adding to the applause. Within a minute, the entire stands and half of the graduates were giving her a standing ovation.
Angela looked around, trying to keep from laughing and crying at the same time. This was the moment she had been waiting for all her life. The ability to stand here in front of all these people and share with them the realities of life, what she'd gone through, and to really make the message hit home was just what she had hoped to accomplish.
Suddenly, a loud noise filled the stadium, like the sound of a fog horn. No one seemed to notice as it sounded again, and again, and again, and slowly the world around her began to slip away. Next thing she knew, she was flailing her arm at the alarm clock on her bedside table, trying to stop the obnoxious noise.
When she succeeded, she sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. The early morning sun was shining in through the window, landing directly on her computer. The monitor light blinked on and off, telling her that it was still on.
Smiling slightly to herself, Angela got up and shook the mouse, bringing up the document she had been working on the night before to finish before she had to turn it in that morning. "The Journey Toward the Future" it was called. Shaking her head, she highlighted all the text and hit the delete key.
Now she had the inspiration to write what would really catch everyone's attention at graduation. After typing the words "Who Are you?" across the top of the page, the sound of clicking keys continued on through the morning.