It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right…

Even though most of our meetings had consisted of three beleaguered women trying to corral thirteen squealing kindergarten girls into crafting projects and rhyming standards of good character, my first-ever girl-scout troop had a graduation ceremony. We were moving from being Daisies—the littlest ones who wear the bright blue vests and whose idea of community service is maintaining the suburban cookie cartel—to being Brownies—the brown vests who visited the occasional nursing home or humane society. Such a move evidently required pomp and circumstance.

Not literally. There was a bridge on the school stage. We each walked over it, an older, worldlier brownie girl holding our hands symbolically as we went. We sang a song about making and keeping friends, about rings being endless, and friendship being eternal. Then we had cookies and lemonade and ran squealing around the cafeteria some more.

The next year, I went back to that stage, this time in my brown vest, and ceremonially escorted more little girls into the “real world.” There was less, but still an astonishing amount of high-pitched screaming coming from the older girls as we, yet again, chased each other around. These were simpler times.

Here’s to goodbye, tomorrow’s gonna come too soon…

I’d spent the past week and a half making sure everyone in the sixth-grade class had signed my yearbook (the two boys I had crushes on were first, obviously), and now I gripped that yearbook tight in little fists as I stood on that same cafeteria stage and tried to sing a completely different song through the wall of tears cascading down my cheeks. This song was also about how friendship lasts forever, but it was also about how goodbyes sometimes last a long time, too.

I wasn’t saying goodbye to most of my classmates. In fact, those boys I had crushes on would be in at least one of my classes every semester for the next six years. But I wept openly anyway, because the building I was leaving had been my second home for the past six years. I knew the rules: first and second graders get first recess, third and fourth graders get second recess, and fifth and sixth graders get last recess. (Those were basically all the rules I cared about: fitting into the hierarchies and playing outside.) I wanted to stay where I knew things, where I was comfortable. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

A couple hours later, I was eating popsicles on the grass with my fellow former-sixth-graders, talking about how cool it was to be sitting outside while the rest of the school was stuck cleaning out their desks and classrooms. My priorities managed to keep me calm as I entered the real world.

If you got something that you need to say, you better say it right now ’cause you don’t have another day…

The gym was the same one I had spent the last two years running laps around, and with two hundred junior-high-aged students in varying stages of puberty, it smelled like it. My classmates all sat on folding chairs on the gym floor, but I was in one of the black orchestra chairs on the stage. Someone had pinned a floppy pink carnation to my royal blue robe and between that and my bright red face and ridiculous clunky brown shoes, I looked like the dregs of a long-retired box of Crayolas. I think the principal said something to begin the event and I’m fairly certain someone other than the principal introduced me, but I was hardly paying attention, so memories of those didn’t really stick. All I remember anymore was that, for three minutes, when I made a joke, hundreds of people laughed, and when I counted beats of silence in my head, no one spoke to interrupt me. And when I finished my speech by quoting a motivational poster that had stared at me in my English class all year, everyone clapped, and I’m pretty sure my brothers whooped when they definitely weren’t supposed to.

I had signed up to give the speech because I wanted my crush (a different boy than those from two years ago; my preteen heart couldn’t be nailed down) to think I was daring and interesting, not because I wanted to stand in front of a gym full of people and try to be mildly entertaining for three consecutive minutes. But when I sat down in my seat in a folding chair on the gym floor, I was prouder of myself for the past three minutes than I was of the entirety of the past two years. Crush be damned.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way…

Though we were expected to eventually file into lines alphabetically by last name, we started in a large, amoebic lump as we passed through the warehouse doors and into the holding area of the arena where we were going to stand for at least half an hour, waiting for the ceremony to begin. I looked around for the Hart brothers, two of whom I would be sitting between, as I had been for every alphabetic event and ceremony for the past eight years since they moved to the area. Instead, I found my friend Hannah from church.

“Hey,” I said, walking quickly up to her. “Did you hear about Katie?”

“Yes,” she said, closing her eyes against the pain of remembering. “I haven’t heard anything since this morning, but I know she’s in a coma and someone said it doesn’t look good.”

I rubbed my temples. “How could something like this happen?” I asked aloud to no one.

“I don’t know,” Hannah said. “It’s hard to be celebrating today.”

I nodded.

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road…

The whole thing felt oddly anti-climactic; I didn’t finish any finals or huge research papers at the last second. The only real sprint-to-the-finish experience was packing up to move out of my apartment within a week of graduation.

Walking around the lawn, finding friends and snapping selfies with them, and crowding around favorite professors to have them meet my parents and take a picture with me, I felt like a balloon that was slowly deflating. The longer the day went on, the closer I drew to the next day, where the real world awaited me, calling me to apply to jobs and pack my things into storage and move across the country.

I didn’t cry at this graduation, like I did all those years ago on the stage of my elementary school, but I would cry later. I would cry for the loss of yet another building that had housed years of immense personal growth. I would cry for the final death rattle of childhood that was released as my parents’ minivan pulled out of sight. I would cry for the inevitability of moving on that coexisted with paralyzing indecision. Like swerving on ice in the snowy streets of my midwestern homes, I continued moving, but my control over the direction and the speed came in the form of prayers and nightmares.

We talked last night about the rest of our lives; where we’re gonna be when we turn twenty-five

I knock lightly on the slightly-open door, and Mr. Dalessandro waves me in.

“Is Daniella here yet?” I ask.

“No, but have a seat. How have things been, these past couple weeks? Is everything winding down?”

“For the most part.”

Daniella knocked on the door and came in. She shook Mr. Dalessandro’s hand and he said, “I think I recognize you. Weren’t you in this program?”

“I was! I graduated in 2014.”

“It’s great to have you back, and thank you so much for taking a student this year.”

“Well, it’s been a pleasure.”

We wax poetic for a half hour about social services, self-care, ethical dilemmas, and job prospects, and in the end, Mr. Dalessandro turns to me and says, “Well, I could ask you a dozen more questions, but with this evaluation and the news that your supervisor wants to hire you, I think we can safely put the lid on your internship. Will we see you at graduation in two weeks?”

“Yeah, I’ve RSVP’d.”

“That’s great. It’s a great way to mark the end of the degree process, you know? It’s good to celebrate the big events in one’s life.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

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