Hello everyone! It's time for another WEP Challenge. This is a special one, because Jemi Fraser, a valued WEP participant, has joined the WEP team as an admin! Please give her a warm welcome!
If you would like to join us this month, stop by this month's post to sign up!
Here is my entry. I hope you enjoy!
Camina’s heart thudded in her ears as she placed the paper on the lectern. The familiar words stared back at her, all pre-approved by both the principal and vice principal. The entire thing was reminiscent of all the graduation speeches that had come before. Both forward-looking and nostalgic. Poetic words about the opportunities that lay ahead of them all.
Graduation was supposed to be an occasion for all of them to celebrate and reflect. Camina’s best friend Sunny should have been there too, but she wasn’t allowed to walk the stage.
Her heavy breathing was amplified by the microphone and transmitted to the entire crowd. The hot gymnasium lights glaring down on her sent rivulets of sweat down her back. She waited for a couple moments before addressing the crowd. “Hello, Class of 2021. We made it this far. We got through mountains of homework and a global pandemic to be here today. It didn’t always feel possible. We should all be proud of ourselves.”
Camina paused to take in another deep breath. Was she really about to do this?
“There are many things to love about this school,” she continued, trying to hold her voice steady. She swallowed hard, but the lump in her throat refused to budge. She could only push the words out around it and hope they weren’t too strangled to be understood. “Wonderful teachers. Great classmates. A gorgeous campus. Our school has a lot to be proud of, and as I prepare to walk away from this institution, I want to remember everything.”
One quick motion of her hand pulled a folded piece of paper from her pants pocket, previously rendered invisible by her flowing robe. She held it there in her palm for a long moment, keeping it hidden behind the podium. As long as it remained there, concealed from sight, she hadn’t done anything irreversible. Thus far, she had yet to deviate from her pre-approved remarks. She could continue with that sanitized, run-of-the-mill speech and go on with her life.
Then she pictured Sunny sitting at home in her room when she should have been there. The injustice of it made her blood boil in her veins. Someone needed to stand up for what was right. No one had listened to her earlier protests, but they would have no choice but to listen now.
“That includes the good and the bad. No school is perfect. Speeches like this are only supposed to focus on the good, though. It may be an unwritten rule, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enforced.” She swept her eyes across the audience, seeing a few curious expressions scattered throughout.
“When I found out I would be giving a speech today, I was told I would have to submit it for approval. No big deal, right? It’s a graduation speech. It’s easy enough to write something inoffensive that fits the bill. And it was. I wrote a bland speech that passed with flying colors. Every word of it was hollow and meant nothing to me, because the real things I wanted to say would never have made the cut.”
A low murmur rumbled through the crowd. Camina dared a quick glance over toward the teachers and various staff seated in the front row. Most of them leaned forward in their seats, curious to see where this was going.
The principal had gone red in the face.
“I want to talk a bit about Sunny Masterson. She should have been giving the speech. She’s the rightful valedictorian, after all. I came in second. Nothing to be ashamed of there. Sunny is brilliant. All of us know it. She earned the right to be on this stage, accepting her diploma. So why isn’t she here? Most of you probably don’t know, so I’ll tell you.
“Sunny got straight A’s. Most years, she was also involved in lots of extracurriculars. This year was a bit more of a struggle. Her mom has been sick a lot over the last several months, and she’s needed people to help her around the house. There were days when it made the most sense for Sunny to stay home from school to take care of her. Her grades never suffered, though. She arranged to get her homework each day and kept up with all of it. You would think Sunny would be rewarded for her dedication, wouldn’t you?”
A hollow laugh escaped Camina’s lips. “Instead, Sunny was pulled aside last week and informed that she had simply missed too many days. Three too many, in fact. Miss too many days, you don’t get to walk at graduation. Doesn’t matter what your grades look like. Nope. She’ll still get her diploma, but she won’t have the memory of being here with all of us. The thing is, Sunny doesn’t regret anything. She’s sad she can’t be here, but she wouldn’t change it. If you ask me, that makes it all so much worse. She’s brilliant and selfless and the exact kind of person who should be here right now. I get that rules are rules, but we also have human judgment. Surely someone could have looked at the situation and seen that an exception could be made.”
Camina dared make eye contact with the principal once more. He trembled with rage. There were going to be consequences for this. Would the school try to withhold her diploma? She would find out soon enough.
“You should have let Sunny walk the stage and give her speech. I can guarantee you would have been much more pleased by her words than you are with mine.” Then Camina spun on her heel and moved to descend the stairs, leaving both of her printouts behind on the lectern.
She could hear the distant sounds of people clapping and cheering. Most of her classmates were on their feet. So she wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Whatever the fallout, Camina had said what she needed to say.
Word Count: 1,000
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