Title: Hero in the Strife- Part 4

Author: Noerf

Rating: PG

Description: Carter graduates from High School to head to college, and all the new experiences that come with it.

Disclaimer: It may seem, at times, that I SHOULD own ER, but alas, this is not yet true ;) It belongs to Crichton, WB, NBC, etc.

Archive: Please do! You don't have to ask, but tell me sometime when you get around to it so that I know where my story is at.

Thanks: To all my friends who have helped and encouraged me in my writing. To my family. Most of all, to Jesus Christ my savior.

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The crowded gym was beginning to become stuffy. Students, faculty, and family were all packed into the room, each bringing their own body heat. The building was actually well cooled, but to John Carter, it was stifling.

He could have sworn the sweat was dripping off the ends of his black graduation gown. Bead of sweat already dripped down his face from under his cap. He glanced around, and saw calm students all around him. Of course they're calm, he thought enviously, they don't have to give a speech. Suddenly, everyone began to clap. The principle had finished his speech, and everyone was looking at John.

"Scooter," Chase, who was seated next to John, whispered. "You're up."

John slowly rose to head toward the step. His feet felt as though they were filled with lead as he made his way toward the stage. When he finally reached the podium, his hands were trembling. He set his speech notes on the podium, and looked up at the audience. Thousands of keen faces were turned toward him. Swallowing, he prepared himself to deliver the speech for the class.

"The acclaimed scientist and mathematician Albert Einstein had a sign hanging in his office at Princeton University. It read, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." Today, this maxim rings true for many of us, as we look back on our high school years. Many of us had successes, and failures, which we have come to realize may not count as much in the real world as we thought. As we step into the next stage of our lives, it's important for each of us to know what really counts.

Success is certainly counts sometimes, but not in all cases. Some people are on the football team, and the most popular guys in school, and end up miserable and alone. They're popularity alone is not enough to really make them happy people. Some people are the smartest people in the class, and end up as wasted drug addicts. They were able to count, to calculate the complicated problems in calculus, but these achievements alone aren't what counts. Perhaps this is because these people place their value in the view of others, and measure their successes by others. But I believe that real success is measured by how much that accomplishment means to you, and how much you have learned along the way to reaching your goals.

Likewise, failures and shortcomings in high school may not affect you in the real world as much as you believe. If you never did well in math, you can still end up a content and productive individual. That girl or boy who broke up with you cannot prevent you from ever having a happy family. You may never see the people who put you down again. Their opinions of you do not count as much as your opinion of yourself. As with successes, failures only affect you as much as you allow them to.

My point is not that your decisions in high school will not affect the rest of your life. Most likely, they will. But your status, intelligence, relationships, and everything else that goes along with high school, is not what counts the most. At the end of the day, you can't tally up all of your so called achievements and disappointments and have what really counts. As Einstein's motto says, the true things that count can't be counted or measured. The true measure of yourself is found within yourself, and that is where your success in the future will come from."

John finished his speech, and there was a pause. He wondered for a moment if he had done horribly. Then, the crowd began to applaud and he breathed a sigh of relief. He headed back to his chair with his classmates. He knew it wasn't the best speech ever, but it had been from his heart. Besides, it had taken a lot of nerve for someone as shy as him to get up in front of all those distinguished people and give a speech.

Chase slapped him on the back as he took his seat. "Good job, Scooter! You didn't faint after all!" he congratulated with a grin.

"Thanks," John said, returning the smile.

The administrative staff then got up and began to call the names of all the students. One by one, they walked across the stage in alphabetical order as Pomp and Circumstance played grandly. They were leaving row by row, and it would soon be time for John's row to go up. He was not as nervous now that he had given his speech. Now he was ready to get his diploma and finally get this stage of his life behind him.

A teacher motioned for John's row to stand, and they all did, walking toward the stage in their line. Some kids pushed each other playfully, still the same immature individuals they had always been. Some kids looked utterly bored. Still others talked excitedly with their friends. As the line moved on, John remained silent.

"Rachel Diane Calhoun," the principle read off. The girl walked across the stage and accepted her diploma. "Amy Denise Cameron." And the next went. "Charles Gregory Carter," he read, and Chase gave John a wink, then trotted up the steps and walked across the stage. Still being the unabashed show- off, he took his diploma and waved to the crowd with it.

"Jonathan Truman Carter, III," the principle announced. John walked slowly up the steps and onto the stage. The principle smiled at him politely and offered his congratulations. With the diploma in his hand, he breathed a sigh of relief. He also found himself glowing with happiness and pride. John turned his attention to the crowd, and scanned for the area in which his family's seating was.

Millicent and Jonathan Sr. were beaming with pride as well, sending him encouraging glances. Seated next to them was Nell, whom John had not seen in over a year. She had grown to be a competent, witty, and elegant young woman. She had also effectively exiled herself from the Carter family and all its rituals but had gladly returned for John's graduation. She was also smiling and proud of her little brother.

John glanced at the seats next to her, the two reserved for his parents, and saw they were empty.

*****

"John!" Nell exclaimed exuberantly as she saw her brother approach. He looked a little gloomy, but then he smiled and hugged her. She stepped back, and shook her head. "I can barely believe it's you. You're so tall."

John laughed mischievously, "I think it's just because you're so short," he said. That earned him a playful punch on the arm.

"Johnny," Gamma said affectionately as she and Jonathan approached the siblings. "Let me take a picture of you!"

Normally John would have objected strongly, but he knew how important this day was to Gamma, and how proud she was; though he didn't feel as if he'd accomplished anything important. Biting back his comments, John put an arm around his sister and smiled. After the picture was taken, they relaxed.

"All right, dear," Jonathan said, taking his wife by the arm. "Let's take the first car and let John and Nell go in the second one. They probably have a lot of fighting to catch up on." He winked charmingly at his grandkids.

"I'm going," Gamma replied, and followed him toward the first of the three limousines sent to pick up the Carter family.

Chase came down the steps toward John and Nell, sandwiched between his proud parents. He looked humorously agitated as his parents both gabbed and led him into the third limousine. John waved to him mockingly, and was met with a glare.

Nell laughed. "Poor Chase," she said. "At least he'll be free of them, too. As will you." She looked intently at John.

Opening the door, John motioned for her to get in, then he followed her. They settled in just as the driver started to go.

Nell looked around curiously, and flicked the ceiling lights on and off. She ran a hand across the dark brown leather seats and shook her head. "So much luxury on the surface," she mused. "And penury within." She looked at John, who was silent. "I'm pretty proud of you, Scrub. Not just because you've graduated, but because you're finally getting out of here."

"Yeah," John said slowly.

"You are, aren't you?" Nell asked. "I mean, you're not going to let them run your life from afar from forever."

"It's not them," John contested. "Gamma and Grandfather have always been very loving and it would be wrong to abandon them completely." He wanted to bite back his word as soon as they were out.

Nell let out an annoyed sigh. "So you think I've abandoned them? I call them all the time. I love them both. But I can't be around here and let Mom and Dad run my life and leave it in ruins."

"I didn't mean that," John said softly. "I admire what you've done, I really do. You've been doing great on your own. Better than great. You have a job and friends and you're happy." He paused. "But I need them as much as they need me. I have to have some way to get into college and into med. school. I know I don't need to ride on their coattails, but I at least need a hand."

"You could get a full scholarship on your own," Nell said.

John laughed sourly. "It hasn't happened yet, and it's not going to." He turned his attention out the window. "I just have to stick with it a little longer, that's all."

"Eight years," Nell corrected. "It's a long time." There was a long silence. "Look, at least go someplace that's a long ways away. I mean that way, when Mom and Dad are even in the country, you won't have to deal with them."

"They won't pay for that," John said quietly. He turned back to Nell, and smiled. "Don't worry, I'll be fine."

Nell was quiet for a few moments, while she sat, contemplating. "I just want the best for you."

"I know you do," John said. "But sometimes you just have to play by the rules."

The limousine pulled into the circular driveway in front of the Carter mansion. There were already hundreds of people at the house for John and Chase's graduation party.

John opened the door and got out, offering a hand to Nell. "Come on," he said to her, "Let's go torture ourselves with hours of bleak conversation with near strangers."

Nell laughed. "Yeah, it'll be like old times."