It Was Only a Dream: My Valediction for the Class of 2020
A high school valedictorian reflects on having her graduation—and speech—swept out from under her.
Right when life was starting to look up, a global pandemic decided to shit on the parade. But the parade hadn't even started yet.
For my entire educational life, I worked my ass off for a supposed “American rite of passage." Then, one day, it all came crashing down.
I couldn't savor the last three months of high school.
I Was Taught to Be the Best
I have two immigrant parents, an autistic brother, and a try-hard persona that always gets the better of me. Ever since I could crawl, I was instilled with the goal of being number one. My dad would always tell me about his hopes and dreams.
“Ay princess,” he’d say, “One day we're going to have the cleanest lawn, and you’re going to help me.” Or sometimes the plan would be to start a band called Soldados de Cristo. He’s had a lot of dreams.
My dad’s a man of faith, so he always “left it up to God,” but I secretly felt that he had too many great ideas and not enough focus to ever accomplish one. So for the past four years, the pressure to actually accomplish one of my dad’s dreams of being number one has rested on my shoulders.
I had it all planned out.
Don't even get me started with this whole, “Well, that's life—it's unfair and unpredictable,” or, “At least you're not dead." Because, trust me, I’ve heard it all.
Yes, I'm eternally grateful to be breathing another day, and I thank God daily for those blessings, but that doesn't mean my feelings toward losing everything I worked so hard for aren't valid.
I deserve to be sad, mad, furious, heated, pissed off and hurt.
I was going to be valedictorian.
My Message to the Class of 2020
I planned to start writing my speech in April, so that by June it would be perfect. I would open with a dumb joke or quote: "A great philosopher once said 'Started from the bottom and now we're here.’” People would laugh, or maybe just my friends, because they know who Drake is. I would recall the life-altering moments I’ve had with teachers and staff. I’d slip in a joke about how I won’t miss the school lunch, but I might miss the lunch ladies.
I would say something about how, traditionally, people say that life begins right after high school—but that I think this whole time I've been living, breathing, savoring, experiencing existence. Then I’d get all riled up and say that we beat the statistic, the one that says little brown kids won’t get further than their sophomore year of high school. Or won't make it to a four-year university. Or will get shot before turning 17.
I'd start to tear up as I ask my parents to stand in front of the crowd and just say, “Gracias por todo, te amo.” Lastly, I’d talk about all the amazing, crazy, cry-laughing moments I got to experience with such a spectacular group of human beings.
Then I’d throw my cap in the air and take in as much of the moment as I could: my friends and the look of adrenaline rushing through their bodies; families and the pure joy in their eyes; teachers and their smug look of, “Yeah I helped do that”; random uncles who probably can't wait to get drunk at the grad party.
I would have taken a mental picture—click—of the unforgettable moment of feeling like you accomplished a huge dream that’s not only yours but also your dad's, your mom’s, your grandma’s, your tia's: The feeling that you could take on the world.
Except I won't ever get that moment.
All the "I would's” have turned into “I won’t’s” or “I can’t’s. I’m stuck in this endless cycle of pitiful self-loathing with no way out. I’m sorry mami, papi, tia, abuela, random uncle, beautiful brown kids—I wanted to do this for you. For us. And, most importantly, for me.
For the Class of 2020, this American rite of passage remains just this: an American dream.