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What Happened in Room H411 the Day I Graduated:

I never pictured myself being a high school senior, let alone graduating from high school. It’s not that I thought I would flunk out of school or something like that. I simply couldn’t picture myself being almost completely grown up and having four years of high school under my belt. However, four years after I entered Santa Monica High School, I somehow found myself on June 23 at 4:30 p.m. in room H114 at Samo, about one hour away from graduating.

I was lucky to be waiting to graduate in H114 with many of my favorite people I’d gotten to know during my years at Samo. Among them were the students who were going to speak, dance, or sing during the ceremony, and my friend Monica (we are basically twins for many reasons, ranging from the fact that we have the same middle name to the fact that her glasses work perfectly for my eyes).

Monica and I walked around the room, unsure of what to do with ourselves. We were graduating in a matter of minutes, and were extremely restless. I tried to lead one of the nervous speakers in deep breathing exercises to calm him down, but it quickly became apparent that I didn’t really know what I was doing, and he gave up on me and went into a corner to practice his speech alone.

As Monica and I stood by the door of the room, I had an idea: it would be fun to run around in our graduation robes with our arms spread out like airplanes. So we ran out into the hall with our arms out like airplane wings. However, we didn’t notice that there was a huge group of administrators right down the hall, and that it appeared to them that we trying to escape by running towards a door that led to the outside.

“HEY!” the administrators shrieked, panicked that two of their soon-to-be-graduates were apparently trying to flee.

Monica and I froze. “We’re sorry!” we shouted, as the administrators yelled at us to get back in our room. “We’re just trying to be airplanes! That’s all. We’re just trying to be airplanes!” The administrators didn’t seem to understand, though, so we scurried back to H114 and continued to await graduation.

As 5:20 neared, the time at which we were supposed to head down to the Greek Theater, for some reason everyone in H114 began to form a tunnel, the kind of tunnel that parents make for their children to run through after their children’s team wins a soccer game, by standing across from each other in pairs and holding their hands up.

You might be able to tell from our airplane flying escapade that Monica and I like to do fun, unconventional things. We’ve gone trick-or-treating in November. We’ve tried to convince people that we were starting a leap frog team at Samo. We learned to break-dance from break-dance performers right in the middle of the Third Street Promenade while amused tourists looked on. And one of our favorite things to do is try to get strangers to walk through tunnels we make for them. So what was so amazing about this tunnel in H114 was that neither Monica nor I had suggested it. We couldn’t believe it. It was as though all our years of messing with people had finally paid off, and our peers had embraced our spirit.

Once everyone had gone through the tunnel, people started calling for a group hug. Again, I couldn’t believe what was happening, because usually I was the one who had to call for group hugs. Once the hug was over, we all stood in a circle. One of the boys made a short speech to us. Then someone suggested that we do the Hokey Pokey.

The Hokey Pokey – I hadn’t done it in at least ten years. And yet, within a matter of seconds, all the people in the room, my AP Economics teacher included, were singing and dancing their hearts out to the Hokey Pokey while wearing their graduation robes and precariously perched graduation caps. I had thought that seeing many Samo students singing “Amazing Grace” together at the recent peace rally was the sweetest thing I have ever seen at Samo. I’m now fully prepared to take that back. Seeing this group of 18 year olds (plus one fully grown man) dancing the Hokey Pokey together, and being entirely 100 percent into it, well, that was definitely the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen at Samo.

Graduation itself went by in a blur, because I didn’t feel like I was actually graduating. It was too surreal. But I do remember bits and pieces of it – there was the part of the ceremony when all the graduates threw up their carnations in the air (we aren’t allowed to throw up our graduation caps for numerous reasons, among them possible injury, confusion, and general mayhem) and it seemed like every single carnation decided to hit my head on its way down, and there was the part when the teachers reading out the graduates’ names kept on reading peoples’ names at the same time in a very uncoordinated way.

There were also the amazing speeches given by Mr. Burnett (the one and only Hokey Pokey-dancing football coach AP Economics teacher), and Jonathan Lee, Kevin Poindexter, Petros Egziabher, Oscar Benitez, and Petey Kass. And there was the impressive dance performed by Lisa Llanos, Monica Reich, and Franchesca Hladik, and the sweet song sung by Jessie Clemens and Philene Lemmon.

I was highly impressed with the way the graduation was run. Not everything at Samo is always as appropriately nice as you’d hope it would be, but graduation was more than I ever expected. For example, take the boxes that were placed in each room of students waiting to graduate. The boxes contained a bag of candy, a large bottle of water, some cups, hair pins, a box of tissues, and even a small bottle of hairspray. There was also a large stack of white paper bags, which, after some debate, we decided were meant to be used in case an epidemic of nerves caused everyone in the room to lose their lunches at the same time. Samo even had some student trumpet players play a fanfare solely for the enjoyment of the graduates before we began our descent from the history building towards the Greek Theater, and the choirs sang for us as we walked towards the stage. It was only for our benefit; the audience was too far away to hear any of it.

When I’m an old lady sitting on my front porch knitting sweaters for my adorable twin grandsons someday and I think back to my high school graduation, I won’t think of getting my diploma, shaking the principal’s hand, or even the night-long Grad Nite celebration that followed graduation.What I’ll really remember is that hour right before graduation. You see, I could go on for hours about things I love that have happened to me while I was at Samo. But in the end, what I love most about Samo is not what happened there, but the fact that it’s the kind of place where things like what happened in H114 that one hour before graduation are possible, and can happen.

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