By Delores McCarter
Amy Reynolds sat in front of her desktop computer, typing continuously. Her nimble fingers clicked across the keyboard in a rhythmic pattern as if playing a piece of music. She had worked on the speech all afternoon, and it was finally finished. Her last task was very simple--she needed to send a copy of the speech to Dr. Jefferson, the school principal, who was waiting to review it.
Amy placed the speech on the fax machine and sent it to the school office. Now she could focus on getting ready for the graduation ceremony to be held the next day.
For months, Amy had rejected the offer of giving the commencement speech. She knew that just seeing all her friends together would be enough to bring back a flood of memories. To actually have to stand up and speak in front of so many people was more than she thought she could handle. Amy was sure that it was too soon for her to do such a thing.
Then one night, her mom invited the Sanchez family over for dinner. Everyone tried encouraging Amy to give the commencement speech, but Mrs. Sanchez was the most influential. She told Amy that this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for both families, and that she should be the one to give the speech.
Mrs. Sanchez took Amy's hands into her own and told her how much her family admired her strength and character, as well as her academic excellence. She said that it would be a tremendous honor for both families if she would give the speech.
Hearing from Mrs. Sanchez just broke Amy's heart. Suddenly she felt selfish for being so stubborn and finally agreed to speak at the graduation. After that, the Reynolds' house was filled with celebration and laughter. It was the first time either family had laughed in several months.
On graduation day, there was a lot of activity in the Reynolds' home. The telephone started ringing early with congratulations for the new graduate, and relatives were coming over at eight o'clock for breakfast. Amy's dad was cooking a large breakfast of bacon, eggs and pancakes, her brother, TJ, was busy looking for his new digital camera, and her mom was helping Amy get dressed. There were several package deliveries that morning too.
The Reynolds' next-door neighbor, Debbie, saw the constant stream of traffic, and walked over to see if she could help. When Mrs. Reynolds answered the door and recognized her teenage neighbor, she smiled and said, "Debbie! Please come in. It's been a crazy morning."
Amy's mum held the door open wide, and Debbie entered the foyer. Looking around, she said, "Mrs. Reynolds, your hands are full. Let me handle the phone and the door while you get ready."
Natalie Reynolds looked around the foyer with astonishment. There were packages stacked against the wall in the hallway, and she could hear the sound of a trunk closing outside. A large, brown delivery truck was parked in the driveway, and the delivery man was walking up the path.
"Great day!" Natalie exclaimed. "Can you believe all this? Yes, Debbie, I would really appreciate your help!"
"Sure thing," Debbie nodded, smiling. "This is a great day for Amy. You go ahead and take care of your family. I can handle this."
Right then, the doorbell rang, and as Debbie responded to it, Mrs. Reynolds gave her a quick hug and then ran upstairs to check on her daughter. She had about a half hour to get Amy dressed and into her cap, gown, and honors stole. Time was quickly running out.
After the breakfast with the relatives, and a pre-graduation photo session, it was time to head over to the school. Mrs. Reynolds grabbed a copy of Amy's speech and a pack of tissues. TJ took photos, while Mr. Reynolds helped his daughter into the van. Debbie helped the relatives from the breakfast table and back into their cars so that they would be ready to follow Amy's dad when he pulled out of the driveway. Once everyone had headed out, Debbie helped herself to some leftover pancakes.
They arrived at school early so they could meet with Dr. Jefferson. Amy spotted some of her classmates, and they came over to wish her well. Before long, a joyful crowd surrounded her, many asking Amy to sign their yearbooks. TJ stood behind his sister with pride, taking pictures of her classmates with his new camera.
Amy was still passing around yearbooks when it was time for her to go on stage. TJ helped Amy navigate her wheelchair onto the stage, handed her the speech, and then gave her an encouraging wink, before joining his parents in the front row. He made certain that he sat right beside the Sanchez family.
Once the graduates received their diplomas, it was time for the Valedictorian speech. Dr. Jefferson asked Amy to join him in the center of the stage. As she rolled herself beside him, she could feel the flutter of butterflies in her stomach.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I have the distinct honor and privilege of introducing to you a very gifted woman who has risen above tremendous odds. Despite her injury she has maintained a 3.9 grade point average, receiving High Honors. She has a fighting spirit and a heart that is sure to inspire you. Please welcome our Valedictorian for the Class of 2006, Amy Reynolds."
Dr. Jefferson handed the microphone to the young woman beside him, before returning to his seat. The audience was eager for Amy to speak. Several students smiled and a few of them even waved at her. After a couple of deep breaths, she felt at peace and started to talk.
"Dr. Jefferson, staff, honored guests, and my fellow classmates ... I am the honored one. First, there are some people that I would like to thank. My loving family, who have always been there for me, as well as the Sanchez family, who have been just like family to me. I love you all very much. You raised a beautiful daughter who has touched many lives in a positive way.
I speak to you today to pay tribute to Maria Sanchez. Maria should be the one speaking to you today because she was originally elected Valedictorian. With a grade average of 4.0, Maria had the highest grade average in school. She was my study partner, my toughest competitor, and most importantly, she was my best friend. I will miss her dearly.
About three months ago, Maria was driving me home when her car was hit by a drunk driver. This driver was not even old enough to drink. Maria was killed instantly, and now my legs don't work like they should.
Even at seventeen, Maria had a full life. She was comical, and yet very brilliant. She was the best friend one could ask for, with one exception. Maria was so goal-oriented that she had her career path planned until she reached age 60! She was a lover of all animals, so I know she would have become a wonderful veterinarian.
Maria and I have been friends for nearly ten years, and I loved her dearly. She was very much like a sister to me--she told me off like sisters do, and set me straight when I strayed away. I will always treasure the things she shared with me. So, I feel compelled to share some of her words with you.
Maria wrote several tips for the graduating class. She wrote them down in her journal and she also discussed them with me, so I know that they were very important to her.
The first tip is to be true to yourself. Don't let fear get in the way of you experiencing life. Let the light shine from within you. Be encouraged to embrace the bad times as well as the good times. Don't let the negative opinions of others steal your dreams. Your dreams are sacred so please treasure them.
The second tip is to exercise your freedom of choice. Choose freedom from drugs, gangs, and unprotected sex. Please take care of your body, your family, your education, and your future. We don't want those horrendous statistics to grow worse on our watch.
Third, be productive in society and make a difference in other people's lives. It feels great helping others with a genuine heart.
Graduates of 2006, we have a mission to fulfill. This diploma is our license to go forth into the world and fulfill our mission. Class of 2006: You are warriors.
You are the lighthouse for the next generation to follow. Please don't let your light grow dim with mediocrity. Class of 2006: Let that light shine for all to see! Thank you."
Everyone in the auditorium stood in enthusiastic applause. Dr. Jefferson walked over and gave Amy a big hug. This was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime moment and Amy was glad she was there to experience it.