If someone were to ask me where my graduation gown or cap are, I wouldn’t be able to give an answer, but I know for a fact that there are two origami frogs sitting on my desk. I will keep them until the day I die.
My high school graduation was held in a stadium designed for professional sporting events and concerts. After four years of struggles, mistakes and triumphs, I had finally earned my place in a line of 703 other worn-down teenagers ready to cross the stage and receive a single piece of paper signifying that we are ready to join society. That paper was blank, of course. Our real diplomas were mailed to our homes a few days later so our parents could keep them safe for us.
The graduation ceremony lasted well over three hours because of the sheer number of names to call. We’d been lined up since 6:30 that morning, and one of my classmates three rows over started snoring about an hour into the calling. The stadium was nearly silent, aside from the constant stream of names, some of which I’d never even heard before. Families were instructed beforehand not to clap until an entire row had been called.
Then one name broke the system. “Akugbe Imudia,” said the umpteenth teacher, reading from the umpteenth list. Suddenly, my snoozing peer across the aisle was jerked awake as the previously zombie-esque crowd of soon-to-be graduates burst into cheers. It was an individual decision made by hundreds simultaneously, and 20 years from now it’ll probably be the only part of graduation I remember.
High school, for teenagers today, is all about fighting to be as impressive as they can be. It’s all about how many AP classes they can take, how quickly they can enroll in college courses, how many sports they can compete in and how many clubs and organizations they can be the president of. These are the things we are taught make us successful and valuable.
That being said, I don’t remember my valedictorian’s name. I know we had AP Language together during my junior year. We had a few other classes together, and we probably even talked on a few occasions. Right now, she’s probably in a lab surrounded by many of the other brilliant minds of our generation searching for ways to cure diseases and improve the lives of thousands. But there’s more than one way to change the world.
Akugbe proved that to me by smiling at me and saying good morning every day, even though we never had a class together. I never realized it until that moment, when 700 students stood up to clap for a student who didn’t have a 4.0 GPA, wasn’t the president of any club, and didn’t play any sports. But Akugbe had shown the same kindness to every student he saw.
I graduated with 702 other students, but only one used to make origami frogs out of colorful paper and leave them on desks for the next person who sat there–just to brighten their day. I still have my paper frogs, and when I heard the cheers of my graduating class that followed the name “Akugbe Imudia,” I couldn’t help but wonder how many of my classmates also had a little frog sitting on their desks.