3 Years Later

As I walked up the stairs that led to the platform stage, I could feel all 400+ eyes on me. I gulped, closing out my family's screams that followed my every step. It was only three years ago when I'd crawled out of freshman year with the heaviest bags under my eyes and all life drained from my body. Just those years ago, I'd lucked out on my finals, the stress of the next few years finally dawning on me. I'd probably imagined myself finally graduating from the mess that was my grades, and fleeing far away from my small town to a decent college in a bigger city that would look past my grades and focus on the load of activities I'd gotten myself involved in. But somehow, there I was. Three years later. Trying to find something tangible I'd accomplished in the recent years and almost finding none. Turns out the only things I'd brought out of a two year long pandemic were a new haircut and a tik tok personality. It was a reawakening, of course, realizing all that time passed by and I'd only spent it rising in ranks in video games and not in real life. I'd spent those two years learning all texting abbreviations that ever existed and how to access illegal websites to watch the latest movies for free. I was a master at everything but what mattered. Yet, I'd persevered and one way or another, made it to this stage. This stage that I thought wouldn't come for another three years because I realized, a bit too late, that I was still stuck in that freshman class, hearing for the first time, that school may be closed for a few weeks due to the outbreak of a deadly virus. My 14 year old mind had stayed frozen in time for those two years and I hadn't realized how fast time flew, oblivious to my lack of growth as I advanced through high school. So there I stood on the stage, hand extended towards my school's principal, expecting a credential that forged my accomplishments through the fancy words etched onto the cover page. When did accepting my high school diploma start making me feel like a fraud? I shook off the feeling and advanced, collecting the piece of paper while my family and friends screamed even louder. It was weird as I walked off the stage, my diploma clutched in hand and endless possibilities of the future that lay ahead whirling through my mind. It was weird the way the creases of the paper comforted me, reminding me of the tumultuous years I'd scathed through -a testimony not everyone could give. In that moment, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude engulfed every part of me and tears suddenly found my eyes. I wiped my eyes once I sat down and took in the scenery -the people- around me while a friend of mine mounted the stage, making the same face I had when I was in her place. It was then I realized that I wasn't alone in my thoughts. I looked around once more and saw similar expressions on almost every graduate's face. We were all overwhelmed with multiple emotions at once: confusion, surprise, regret and yet, pride. We were stringed along into a global pandemic that put a stop into our lives without warning and forced us into an immediate life of maturity. Just a few years ago, we were many years younger and looked far ahead at adulthood(and all that came with it), as a distant dream. But it came quicker than expected. That distant dream, now as near as the breaths we breathed, pushed us into the scary, unknown depths of adulthood; and all expectations that the 14 year old children of those years ago couldn't comprehend, had now become our realities. I prayed quickly in that second of unison that each of us would be able to make it through whatever else life threw at us, just as we'd survived through one of the greatest epidemics of our generation. In that, I hoped that the sadness that lingered in our hearts would give us the strength to move on with our lives having no hardships or regret.

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Angell Kim

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