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Everything in life has a designated end. Seasons change, people change, and circumstances change. What we fail to realize, however, is that every end marks a new beginning. And sometimes these moments can be recreated or changed into a completely new form. I feel brand new as I prepare to cross that stage, accepting a diploma that I and every graduate in this this room worked hard for. The end of highschool, perhaps the end of an era, can seem terrifying to some but I feel liberated. I am excited to embrace what comes next.

My acceptance letter to LSU came in the mail a couple of months ago and when reading that I got accepted Justin, my family, and I were ecstatic. It’s required during our freshman year to live on campus, but he and I have discussed getting an apartment together if things go according to plan during our sophomore year. I even earned a partial scholarship into their writing program when I submitted a piece of my original work on a whim. Amiyah and Shane are attending separate in state colleges in the fall, Lou is attending Berkeley, and Gracson has a basketball scholarship to the University of Kentucky. I am insanely happy and proud of all of them.

“You ready to go squirt? You only graduate from high school once.” I start screeching when Alex goes to mess up my hair. I am not accepting my diploma with my hair looking a mess. He drove here last night to make my graduation today. I’ve been to his and Grant’s apartment and it’s insanely nice. The city of Muncie is cool too, and I think it’s a wonderful place for Alex to get his brand new start. After the whole moving fiasco he and I sat down and talked about everything really. I expressed to him all of my fears and he promised to try and help appease them. Alex apologized for not telling me he’s moving out sooner, and we talk on the phone at least once a week and text almost everyday. He might not have been physically here with me, but communication with him was enough. It was such a stark contrast from the radio silence I received when he was in rehab. He continues to see his therapist and work through the issues he’s had leading up to his addiction and following it. I can truly say he’s a healthier person than he was a year ago. And for that I am glad.

“I know Alex. I am beyond ready.” Grabbing my purse, I lead Alex and my mom out the front door. My father and Karen have been waiting in the driveway so we could all leave together and so my parents, Karen, and Alex can get seats beside one another. In these past few months, my father and I have been working on our civility towards each other. He admitted his faults and his wrongdoings that led to the downfall of his and my mother’s marriage. He also apologized to me for having to experience my mother’s heartbreak first handedly. We both agreed to give each other a fresh start, a second chance of sorts. We weren’t aiming to forget the past, but more rather move on from it.

As for Amy, I’ve also reached an olive branch out ot her. I can admit to myself that I’ve been painting her as a villain all of this time, when the truth is that my parent’s marriage was suffering before she ever became a part of the equation. She was wrong for continuing to see my father once she learned he was married, but she was just the catalyst to a divorce that was already bound to occur. I actually stay overnight with them sometimes and I always take Frankie out places with me when Karen lends me her car. I love that little girl, and I have a feeling she will be my step-sister soon with the way my father has been acting around Karen when he believes no one is watching. Walking carefully on my high heels, I almost trip anyways at the sight of the blood red Trailblazer sitting in my driveway.

“Oh my god!” I gasp, running forward to caress its fine finish. My dad and Karen exit their vehicle, grinning along with my mother who’s beaming with satisfaction.

“Do you like it sweetheart?” My mother asks.

“This is mine?” I ask, dumbfounded. I can’t believe I finally have my own car after riding the school bus for seemingly forever and then catching rides from Justin for the remainder of my senior year. This is surreal.

“It’s a graduation gift from your mother, Karen, and I.” My father gloats, wrapping his arm around Karen who’s smiling brightly.

“Thank you guys so much! I can’t believe you guys did this for me. Where’s the keys?” I ask eagerly, squealing in excitement when Karen tosses them to me. Sliding in, I smile triumphantly at the roar of the engine. It’s beautiful. Exiting the car, I give everyone an individual hug, including Alex.

“I can’t believe you guys! First a new laptop from Alex, and now a car from you three? I am so blessed.”

“Well we might want to get going if you don’t want your graduation gifts to go to waste because you don’t get there on time to walk onstage.” My father warns. Blanching at the time, I’m quick to tell everyone goodbye as I step into my car and start off towards the high school. I’m nervous, but it’s from excitement rather than fear of something going wrong. I’ve been waiting for this moment for four years. And I can’t wait to cross the stage with my amazing boyfriend and best friends. Parking in the school lot, I cross through to the school doors and meet up where all of the seniors were scheduled to meet. Seeing Justin and everyone else, I quickly walk over to them.

“Hey baby.” Justin greets, kissing my forehead tenderly. I flush, feeling warm and fuzzy from his affection. Lou launches herself at me and I laugh at her antics.

“I can’t believe we’re graduating! Who knew we’d make it?” Lou asks rhetorically, and everyone shrugs. It was definitely an uphill battle to get here, but we all made it. Justin, and honestly all of the boys, looked dapper in the graduation gowns. I straightened my hair, leaving it loose. I’m wearing a flowy summer dress underneath my gown and I left my makeup light. Simple but still cute and elegant. A couple of weeks ago I cut my hair and now it falls to my shoulders. I liked the shorter style, especially with summer creeping up every single day.

“You guys all look great.” I compliment as people begin to go and find their designated seats. The ceremony is going to start soon. This is it.

“You don’t look too bad yourself.” Shane jokes and I roll my eyes at him while going into his arms to accept his hug. He did look good, the black gown suited his dark eyes and demeanor. He was putting on a front for everyone else, but I can see through his bullshit now. To the world he is a rude, callous person with a dark personality. But the reality is that Shane is nothing short of human. He has flaws, he’s imperfect, and he has the ability to be hurt and hurt others in return. He has a bad handle on his emotions and acts like an asshole to stop people from getting too close.

A month ago he finally confided to me about his younger sister. Around Christmas a few years back, she was in a fatal car accident and died upon impact. She was on her way to spend Christmas with her then boyfriend, Ian, despite not celebrating it, and the slick conditions of the road caused her to swerve and crash head first into a semi. She was dead on the scene and Shane hasn’t been the same ever since. He became isolated after her accident, contorting into the person I met back in August. He admitted that the reason he was especially malicious to me in the beginning was because I reminded him of her. He said we were both equally snarky and cynical. He said he didn’t know how to handle the emergence of someone who instantly reminded him of Ophelia. But after New Years our relationship improved to where we could actually claim to be friends. And he finally trusted me with a piece of himself.

“We better get to our seats. Our parents are going to be allowed to enter soon.” We all congratulate each other one more time and go our separate ways. Since my last name ends in A I’m going to be among some of the first people called onstage. I’m sad that I won’t be sitting next to any of my friends since our last names all differ, but I’ll see them when this is all over. I’m increasingly anxious when our valedictorian finishes her speech and people are called to walk and collect their diplomas. Justin didn’t end up as valedictorian but he was fifth in our class and I am so proud of him regardless. When the boy next of me stands up I tense, impatiently waiting for our principle to uttetr my name.

“Lillian Alvarado!” Claps resound as I stand on shaky legs, walking steadily up the steps to the podium standing tall for all to see. I shake our principal’s hand and turn toward the crowd, grinning for the multitudes of pictures my family must be taking. They, along with my friends and Justin, are hooting loudly, and I blush and laugh with glee when they all stand and continue clapping for me even when I exit the stage. SItting back down, I admire my diploma. I earned this. This moment was well worth every hardship that led to it.

I scream and cheer when everyone else collects their diplomas, being extra obnoxious when Justin stands up there grinning largely like the charmer he is. It’s over before I know it, four years of anticipation over in simply hours. I get swept up with everyone when we toss our hats, and I have to scramble around for a bit until I find my family. Justin beat me to them, and I find a extremely happy Frankie perched on his shoulder.

“Congrats sissy!” Frankie shouts when I walk up and my heart melts. She started calling me “sissy” a few months ago and it would’ve been weird if she’d called me “Lilly” ever since.

“Did you bully Justin into putting you on his shoulders?” I scold playfully, laughing when she hides her face in his hair. Every since those two met they had an instant connection. She started asking me constantly every time I came over where he was and if he can bring her cookies again. Justin is amazing with her and it’s quite a sight to see the two together.

“Come here girl.” My dad says, squeezing the life out of me. I exchange hugs with everyone, accepting their congratulations and warm wishes and praises. Justin goes off to find his parents and everyone else stops by where we’re standing for a moment to talk with me and take pictures before they have to get going for celebratory dinners with their families.

The guy who Amiyah’s been seeing and attends college came, and they are the most adorable couple ever. Lou is still single but she has been on a few dates since her and Gracson split. Gracson is seen with a new girl left and right but none of them seem to stick. Even my brother himself actually met a girl who’s in college when he moved to Muncie. They’ve only been dating for two months but things seem to be getting pretty serious between the two of them. I haven’t met her yet but he’s shown me pictures of her and she is absolutely gorgeous. Justin and I have still been going strong, and our relationship seems to get better and better everyday. The way he asked me to prom was adorable, he cut up a poster board and drew on it to resemble a baseball and wrote “It would light up my world if you would be my catch at prom,”. I said yes of course and it was one of the best nights we’ve had so far.

Standing there surrounded by the those who mean the most to me in this world, I realize that despite whoever has come into my life only to leave abruptly, or those who I never had the chance to connect with, people come and go. But life is simply about seeing who cares enough to stay.

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