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Graduation

I spent the summer in Grand Forks working part-time in a nursing home in the activity department and utilized my music talent nearly every day. We sang a lot of songs from the early to mid-1900s, but they also allowed me to introduce music that I listen to today. They loved playing instruments, so I created a rhythm band and we practiced weekly until we performed for others at the end of the summer.

Tim and I talked a little bit over the summer. He would tell me about his new job and how he was adjusting. I told him about my job and the fun things that I did with the residents. Just before summer ended, he called to tell me that he met someone, or I should say, reconnected with his old flame and I told him I was happy for him and wished him luck this time around.

Of course, this reminded me of Ian, but I pushed the thoughts out of my head as much as I could. It had been over two years since I heard from him and I needed to move on.

When school resumed, I was offered to stay on in an evening and weekend role at the nursing home and I accepted. They were very flexible with my class schedule as this year I had to not only work on my regular classes, I had to prepare for my senior recital, which I planned a spring concert.

Even though this was my last year, the schedule was still pretty heavy with classes. I had a couple of general education classes to finish up, took orchestra, my practicum class where I did sessions twice a week at a local elementary school during the fall semester and then planned to be in the high school in the spring.

Nikki, Jodi, Bethany and I continued to share an apartment, however, Bethany spent more of her time with her boyfriend that she met over the summer and was rarely home. Nikki, Jodi and I still went out on the weekends, but instead of frat parties, we went dancing at the local bars or clubs.

I decided that I didn’t want a serious relationship anytime soon after my last year with Tim, so I ‘played the field’. This doesn’t mean that I slept with any guy I met, but I did date a lot just have fun and get to know them a little. I was always upfront with the men I met and like me; they just wanted to have some fun.

When the semester ended, instead of going home, I went to Chicago to spend several weeks with my sister. She just had her second daughter and I wanted to help her out since she had a two-year old running around the place.

Jake picked me up from the airport, which I was surprised since it was usually Aaron or Dylan, one of their drivers that usually picked me up.

“Hey Jake,” I waved as I saw him by his car.

“Sarah, it’s good to see you,” he said and kissed my cheek. He grabbed my bags and put them in the trunk of the car and we both got into our seats and buckled up.

“So what do I owe the pleasure to for you to be picking me up today?”

Jake chuckled, “I needed to get out of the house for a bit so I told your sister I would come get you.”

“It’s that bad, huh?” I smirked.

“Just a little,” he smiled. I could tell he hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep recently as he looked tired and wasn’t wearing his normal suit and tie that I usually see him wear.

“How is Stacy doing? It must be tough with two babies at home.”

“Stacy is actually doing better than I am. Then again, she’s only been home a couple of days.”

“So why do you look so rough?” I asked him.

“Hope has way too much energy and I was on my own while Stacy was in the hospital. I never realized just how much Stacy did around the house and with Hope until I had to take her place.”

“They say a mother’s work is never done,” I laughed and he joined in.

We pulled up to the penthouse a little while later since traffic was pretty thick when I arrived in the city. Jake and I talked a little bit about school and what I’ve been up to. He told me a little bit his job and of course, we talked about Stacy and the girls.

Jake opened the door for me and I entered their home and heard a baby crying and a toddler throwing a tantrum and I almost thought of turning around and going home. Jake, however, pushed me forward and set my bags down in the foyer.

“Stacy, honey? Sarah is here,” Jake hollered through the house.

I gave him a look and told him to keep it down. “Will you be quiet? I don’t think yelling through the house is going to help the girls.”

“Sorry, you’re right. Let’s go,” he said and headed toward the living room. Sure enough, little Hope was on the floor crying and throwing her toys while Stacy was walking back and forth trying to calm a newborn baby. She looked absolutely frazzled.

“Stacy, how are you? Give me the baby,” I said reaching out to take the bundle from her arms.

“Sarah, it’s good to see you and I was fine until about ten minutes ago,” she tried to laugh but turned more into a cry. “This is your new niece, Haley Jean,” she said while handing me the baby. “Hope come here baby,” she said reaching her arms out to her older daughter.

Hope stopped her tantrum and ran into her mother’s arms. I guess she just wanted her attention since she was used to be the only child until a few days ago. “I wonder if Stacy was like that when I was brought home,” I thought to myself and smiled.

“What are you smiling about?” Stacy asked me.

“One, I’m smiling at this adorable little baby I’m holding who looks just like you and a mini Hope. Two, I was just thinking if you acted like Hope when Mom and Dad brought me home,” I answered her.

“I’m sure I did, after all, I had all their attention for two years before you showed up.” She laughed and looked at Hope and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

Both girls quieted down quickly and Haley gave me a little yawn as she started falling asleep in my arms. I continued to rock her gently while singing a little lullaby.

“Sarah, I can’t thank you enough for coming to spend your break with us here. I really appreciate it.”

“It’s no problem Stacy. I worked it out with my supervisor and she understands. I told her I’d be back shortly after the New Year.”

“Have you let Mom and Dad know you are here yet?” she asked me and I shook my head. “I’ll give her a call since Hope has finally calmed down. Jake, do you know where I put my phone?”

“I think you had it on the charger when I left,” he replied and went to retrieve the phone. He brought it to Stacy after a couple of minutes and took Hope from her. “Hey baby, let’s go see what we are going to have for dinner,” he said to Hope who nodded her head.

I sat down on one of the chairs as Stacy sat on the couch and called Mom. “Hey Mom!” she said when Mom answered the phone.

“Hey sweetie, how are you?”

“I’m a little frazzled, but doing OK. Sarah just got here and is already helping me out,” she replied.

“Hi Mom,” I spoke up since Stacy had the phone on speaker.

“Hey honey, did you have a safe trip?”

“Yes I did. We hit some snow coming through Minnesota, but it cleared up by the time we hit Chicago.”

“Yeah, we got hit here pretty hard a couple hours ago and more is coming. You missed the hardest snowfall,” Mom told me.

“Stay safe Mom,” Stacy said.

“We will, this isn’t our first blizzard,” I could almost see her smile as she spoke. We have had a lot of snow over my years growing up. “How is Haley?”

“She is great and I think she is settling into her new home pretty well. Now if I can get Hope to get used to having a baby sister here, we will all be great,” Stacy replied.

“She will sweetie. It’s hard to be a big sister. Just encourage her to help you out and give her plenty of alone time with you,” Mom shared some advice. “I remember another little girl who was the same way when she discovered that she had to share her mom and dad, her toys and everything else.” She laughed over the phone.

“I’ll try to remember that advice,” Stacy said. “I wasn’t that bad, was I?” she continued.

“You had your moments,” Mom answered. “I’m sorry, but I have to go; your grandmother is calling me. I love you both and give hugs and kisses to the girls.”

“I love you too Mom,” I said.

“Love you Mom. Give Dad a hug from us.” Stacy replied and then hung up the phone.

“Stacy, if you want to go take a nap before dinner, I can help out for a bit,” I offered seeing her lay her head back on the couch after setting the phone down.

“No, I’m OK. If I lay down now, I might not wake up for dinner,” she chuckled.

After dinner, I helped clean up the dishes while Stacy gave Hope a bath and got her ready for bed. I joined them in Hope’s room, which happens to be next to mine.

“Do you need any help with anything Stace?” I asked.

“No, I think we are good right now. Jake has Haley and is getting her cleaned up and changed and I’m just going to read a story and put this little one to sleep.”

“OK, then I’m going to my room to settle in for the night. If you need anything throughout the night, please wake me. I’m here to help, so don’t forget to ask.”

“Thank you Sarah. See you in the morning, if not sooner,” she gave me a tired smile.

I stopped in the doorway as she started reading a story to Hope and I listened for a few minutes before heading to my room. It was so wonderful to see my sister as this amazing mother after everything she has been through. I only hope I can be like her someday.

******

I returned to Grand Forks a few days into the New Year. I had an amazing Christmas with my sister and we even managed to go out on New Year’s Eve thanks to Jake’s mom who watched the girls. Now I had to get back to work, which I picked up some hours as I was able since I still had a few weeks for my last semester started.

One of the best things about working in a nursing home, even though it’s been only a little over six months, is everyone becomes your grandparent in some way. I had several people ask me where I have been and was told they missed me while I was gone. I had told some of them that my sister just had a new baby and I went to help her out and they shared their stories of their children and grandchildren. I love listening to their stories, and they have many to share.

Spring semester began in February and it was hard to believe that this was my last semester in school. I would graduate in May, and then start my internship in June. I had applied for several last semester, interviewed with three places and got accepted in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I did my practicum session at the local high school with teenagers between 15 and 18 with developmental disabilities. This was a much different population than what I was used to, but it was a wonderful experience. It was also nice to be able to use music that I actually listen to since we weren’t that far off in ages.

My biggest focus was my senior recital that was scheduled for April. Most of the songs in my recital were pieces that I’ve played each semester, so I didn’t have to learn but a couple of new ones. The recital was to be about 45 minutes to an hour long and it was just me and my piano accompanist. My encore piece was a song that I wrote that I would perform on the piano and sing, even though the rest was on the violin.

My parents and Stacy arrived the night before my recital. Jake stayed home with the girls since Stacy only planned on being here until Sunday. They would come up in May for my graduation. I took them to dinner at my favorite restaurant.

“Are you nervous about tomorrow?” Dad asked me.

“A little,” I answered. “I know the music, but knowing that 95% of the audience is classmates that know every mistake you make, it’s a little nerve-wracking.”

“I couldn’t imagine,” Stacy replied. “I’m glad I did all my classes online and didn’t have to worry about being critiqued in front of others.”

“Sometimes I wish I could have done that, but I know I wouldn’t have been happy. I like performing and making music, so this is just one more hurdle to overcome.”

“You will do a wonderful job,” Mom chimed in. “You have worked so hard all your life and I have faith that you will sound beautiful.”

“Thanks Mom,” I said. “How long do you have left Stace?”

“It was supposed to be a two-year program, but with having Haley, I didn’t take all the classes I should have. I will finish them up next fall, and then do my internship in the spring and graduate in May.”

“That’s pretty good. I’m so proud that you pursued this degree and I think you will be wonderful in whatever you choose to do in helping others,” I commented.

“Thanks Sarah and I am very proud of you. My little sister is graduating college and is going to make a difference in a lot of lives,” she teared up a little and I reached over and gave her a hug.

“We are proud of both of you,” Mom said while reaching over and squeezing our hands.

We finished dinner and I joined them at the hotel they are staying at for the night. Stacy and I had a room, while Mom and Dad had their own. We stayed up pretty late talking, even though I reminded Stacy that this is her chance to sleep all night.

After lunch the next day, I went home and put on my recital dress, while Nikki did my hair and make-up. The girls were attending my recital, and I would be attending theirs as well over the next couple of weeks.

I introduced my parents to the girls and they sat and talked in the lobby until the doors opened, while I went back stage to warm-up and meet with my professor and accompanist. I tuned up my instrument and ran a few entrances to make sure I was ready. I took a few deep breaths as the lights flashed off and on signaling the recital was set to begin.

I stepped out on the stage while Jenny, my accompanist, took her seat at the piano. I gave a slight bow to the audience, and began my first song. One by one, I made it through all my pieces and took a bow after completing the last one. The audience clapped loudly while I went off stage to drop off my violin before returning to the stage for my encore.

When I came back out, I took the microphone that I had set up and thanked everyone for attending. I introduced my encore piece by dedicating it to my sister, since it was losing her and then finding her again that inspired the song. I caught Stacy’s eyes and gave her a smile as she smiled back at me.

I sat at the piano and began playing and singing. The first and second verse was about losing my best friend and sister and the emotions that I went through for years not knowing if I’d ever see her again. The bridge was the news of finding out that she was alive and well and the last verse was about our reunion with a final chorus about moving forward together.

I heard my family crying as I finished the song and I had a hard time holding back my own tears as the audience clapped again. Stacy came up to the stage to hand me flowers and I pulled her up and gave her a big hug in front of everyone. I took a final bow and we walked backstage together.

After putting my instrument away, I came out to the lobby to greet my family, friends and others who attended. A lot of people came up to me and told me how wonderful the program was or how they really enjoyed the song I wrote. I could finally breathe easy again.

******

The next time I saw my family, was the night I finished my last final exam. They arrived late afternoon and we went to dinner. I couldn’t believe how big Haley was getting as she was five months already and Hope was getting so smart and recited her A, B, Cs for us or her rendition of them.

I returned to apartment for the night, while they all stayed at a hotel. I would next see them after the graduation ceremony the next afternoon. I managed to get straight A’s my last year of school and my final GPA was 3.897 and I graduated with honors.

After getting dressed, we put on our gowns, caps and cords and headed to the gym where the ceremony was taking place. We stopped to take several pictures and met up with our class to line up for the procession.

As “Pomp and Circumstance” played, we all walked into the gym and took our seats. There were several speeches given by the Dean, the valedictorian and others. One by one we were called to shake hands with the Dean and receive our completion certificate. The actual diploma won’t be sent until after I complete my internship.

I heard my family clap and yell when my name was called and I smiled as I walked across the stage. I accepted my certificate and shook hands as photos were being taken. It took about an hour to get through all the students, and finally the Dean congratulated the Class of 2024 and we all cheered and some threw their caps into the air.

I met my parents outside and they took several pictures of me and a few with my friends. I also took a couple with my parents and with Stacy.

We all went to dinner and I spent time with my family at the hotel. I stayed in my parent’s room that night and we spent much of the next day together before everyone had to head back home.

I was going to stay until the end of May before moving to St. Paul where I found a small one-bedroom apartment to lease for the six-months I was to be there. Bethany had already moved out months ago to be with her boyfriend and Jodi was ready to leave with her parents after the ceremony. Nikki and I were the last two here and we agreed to stay to finish our lease.

I spent the next couple of weeks packing all my belongings and loading my car with the boxes. I rented a U-Haul trailer that I had attached to my car for the furniture that I was taking with me. Nikki and I did a final sweep of the place we called home for the last two years and made sure it was all clean.

We said our goodbyes and I got into my car. Turning on the radio, I rolled down the window and waved one more time to Nikki before hitting the road. I was leaving the college life behind me and moving out into the world. It had been a long four years, but I made it and was ready for my next adventure.


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