Friday, May 5, 8:50 a.m., Hammond, Louisiana — Today is my last day of high school, and as I sit here in St. Thomas Aquinas’ dusty library, I can’t help but wonder about all the wonderful things I would be doing with my friends if Hannan were still around. Seniors used to parade around the halls with their video cameras and sign each other’s uniform shirts. We would all be wearing countdown tags, marking down the days until the end of school. At the end of the day, all the seniors would run to the front office and countdown the last thirty seconds of their final day of high school. No one from Hannan will be doing that this year.
Today, more than any day I’ve experienced since the hurricane, seems fake, seems hollow. It’s almost as if this reality is slightly off and that next year, I’ll return to Hannan after this little vacation for my real senior year.
But, with a graduation dress hanging in the closet of my grandparents’ house trailer, I realize that’s not true. I graduate this year, this month. This, this hollow day, is my final day of high school.
Next August, I won’t be returning to Hannan as a student. Instead, I will be living in a dorm room on a college campus, struggling to adjust to a new sort of normalcy all over again.
I graduate on May 20th, and although this year’s grades will not be included, I had the second highest GPA in the class, which means I will be delivering the salutatorian address.
My prom is on the 13th, and I will be wearing my gorgeous pink dress that held against the tyrant of the hurricane.
I am a senior. I graduate. There’s no stopping that.
The house in St. Bernard is slowly coming along. My mother goes down to the parish almost every day to help my father when he gets off work. When I finish school, almost all of my days will be spent in the parish, working on the house, a slave to recovery. We finished sheetrocking and floating the walls. My mom had to wash my lucky tennis shoes yesterday because they were covered in white sheetrock putty. Walls are painted, and baseboards are being sanded. We’re not sure if and when will be able to get carpet or floor, but we’re making calls.
The house still doesn’t have gas and there is an oak tree still stranded atop my garage, but despite that, St. Bernard is growing back green. The grass is shooting up tall once again, and the flowers are wild and beautiful. This is a new St. Bernard, a St. Bernard that echoes of the old parish but still reminds of us of the destruction that occurred.
The neutral ground is green again, and as you are driving down the road, you start to wonder if the hurricane were just a myth. Then, you see the boat still left in the middle of the neutral ground or the house in the middle of the road. It’s a strange blend of newness and devastation.
I am moving back to St. Bernard two days after my graduation, whether it’s ready or not. I was accepted into an internship at Pelican Publishing, a publishing house in Louisiana, and I begin the Monday following my graduation. They usually are disinclined to accept high school students, but after an interview and an editing test, they realized that I would prove my worth to them. I hope that I don’t let them down.
I have had many tests to prove myself, to redeem myself, throughout the months since the hurricane. Tests of strength, tests of courage, tests of preserverance. I’ve made mistakes in my past and done foolish things, but this whole experience has given me a chance to remind me of the person I am inside, the person I really am.
I’m crossing my fingers and toes for the luck and ability to take those traits I’ve earned to the life beyond with me: to the internship, to college, to grad school, and to that sleek and clean publishing house or literary agency in New York.
My life has turned into a video game.
I am both the controller and the controlled, wrapped into one 3-D figure bouncing across a television screen. I move along from level to level, defeating monsters on the way, and eventually I emerge a stronger being, ready to take on more. What you learn from defeating monster after monster after monster is when to take the offensive and when to hold back and protect yourself. For the hurricane, I came out with digital swords blazing and stood my ground.
I took hold of the opportunity to write for The Tattoo, and I grew stronger as a writer and as an individual.
Last week, I had a battle from my past that reminded me of some not-so-grand parts of my life. I played defensively, and even though I may not have made the greatest choice, that’s still to be seen. I guess the lesson I was supposed to learn from that experience is that we can’t always protect ourselves from everything. Not all parries successfully keep you from getting nicked. There are times when we have to accept the reality around us for what it is. We need to shed whatever rose-colored glasses we might be wearing and figure out the role we need to play in the next level. Sometimes, we need to determine the line that acts as the boundary between protecting the self and holding the self back from opportunities. We need to pick our battles, see the world as it truly is, and act accordingly.
And I guess that goes for today as well.
Today shouldn’t be a hollow day, a false day. Today is my final day of high school, whether it is at St. Thomas or not. I should enjoy it and spend time with the new friends I’ve made before I leave for St. Bernard. I am a senior! Today is the last day I will be in high school ever!
What I have learned from my video game life is that reality is never as we imagine it. We are going to have to deal with things that we wish did not exist.
Hurricanes will come and shake up your snow globe and toss you right back into the falling white snow. Take advantage of the snowstorm, but remember to protect yourself when you need to. It’s all about strategy.
So, here I go — as a senior on my last day of high school ever.
I’m not sure I’m ready for college, but I know that, with all I have learned, I’ll be able to take the offensive and figure things out for my own. The head on my shoulders has grown wiser and smarter. The future ahead of me might not be anything like the dreams I have in my head, but I’m ready for it. Bring it.
Samantha Perez is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.