May 14th: Tobias
I smile at my father through my reflection in the mirror, smoothing my hand over the back of my hair where he just trimmed it.
"Thank you, dad."
"Of course, son. Although I'm not sure how much a new haircut matters today, you will be wearing that hat for the whole ceremony."
"True, true," I pick up the graduation cap, adjusting it onto my head properly. "But thanks anyway. My hair needed a new trim before we meet up with you guys back in Prague later in the summer."
He regards me for a moment, his expression thoughtful. In some deep part of my psyche, my mother is also here on this day, about to watch me graduate as well. But alas, that's not the truth. It never hurts to indulge in a fantasy, though.
As if he can read my mind, my father speaks up. "She would be very proud of you, you know. And I'm sure that she is proud, looking down on you, even if it is from afar."
I nod. "I know. I just wish it wasn't from afar."
My dad doesn't say anything. He's never been a man of many words, but what I've come to realize is that the comfort he gives lies in his supportive silence.
He places a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Come, Tobias. The Prior's will be waiting for us, and I have no doubt that Natalie is going to want to take a myriad of photos to commemorate today. And knowing the size of that family, it's going to take a while."
My father flew in from Prague yesterday afternoon for my graduation whilst I was at school. He'll be leaving tomorrow evening, so it will be a short visit, but hopefully an enjoyable one. Tiffany and her family sent their congratulations, and apologized for not being able to make it with all the chaos they have going on in their career and personal lives at the time. I don't really mind, it's nice to have my father back to myself, even if it is for a couple of days. We haven't spent much quality time alone since he and Tiffany began their relationship, then got married and moved away to Europe.
There are balloons all over the Prior's front yard commemorating Tris and Caleb's graduation, and everyone is already outside, taking photos. My dad and I were just here last night, as this is where he met me when he got in from the airport before we had dinner with Tris's family.
They offered us to stay the night, but my dad insisted that he'd already booked a hotel, and he didn't want to put them out, but truthfully I think he just wanted a peaceful rest after his long flight. As fun as the Prior home is, it is also incredibly noisy. As for me, my graduation clothes were already at my apartment, which was closeby to my dad's hotel anyways, so it was more practical for me to head back home too, much to Tris's dismay.
I park my car up the Prior's driveway, and my dad grabs his graduation present for Tris. Tris and I exchanged gifts yesterday- I got her a new emerald pendant for one of her necklaces, and she got me a new watch, and Andrew and Natalie also got me a Visa Gift Card for 100 dollars. My father and Tiffany wanted to do a nice gesture for Tris as well, so this gift is from both of them.
Tris greets me outside of the car, looking adorable in her graduation cap and gown as she envelops me in a tight hug. "Happy graduation, Tobias."
I close my eyes, shifting my arms tighter around my girlfriend. "Happy graduation, Tris."
She moves to Marcus next, throwing her arms around his neck and catching him off guard. My father isn't very used to being hugged, but he hesitantly circles his arms around her, smiling to himself. "It's good to see you again, Marcus."
"Likewise, Beatrice." When she pulls back, he hands her the gift, "A graduation present from Tiffany and I."
Her face falls in mild surprise as she thanks him and gently pulls apart at the paper. "Wow. These are gorgeous," she gushes, sliding two diamond earrings out of a small jewelry box.
"Prague's finest," Marcus responds.
Tris carefully puts them back in the box, and smiles up at my father. "Thank you, Marcus," she tells him sincerely, pulling him in for another hug. I smile at the interaction. Tris has never been as close with my parents as I have been with hers, and I didn't necessarily see that as a bad thing, but it is nice to see them getting along so well. While Tiffany and my father did consult my opinion on which earrings Tris would like the most, the present was all theirs.
"Hello, hello," Natalie announces her presence as she approaches the group, mirroring Tris's actions as she hugs both me and my father. "You two have arrived just in time for photos!"
My father and I exchange a brief look of amusement before Natalie pulls me over to the photoshoot. He was right- pictures take a good 45 minutes to get through, what with how many people are in this family, and once we're finally done, we all have a brief lunch before both families get into their respective vehicles.
Tris turns to me before she climbs into her car. "See you on the other side, Eaton," she salutes. I stare back at my girlfriend for a few moments. Last night, after dinner, she informed me that she was admitted off the waitlist at Duke, but that she would be choosing Wellington. I wasn't surprised per se- all this time I sensed what really lied in her heart, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. There was some part of me that was holding onto this fantasy of the two of us being together for the next four years, and not having to worry about distance on top of everything else, but my bigger fantasy, my biggest fantasy really, is that Tris gets to live her dreams. That is what takes precedence over everything else, so I had no problem putting my selfish desires aside, and telling her that I was proud of her, and so so happy that we're both getting to chase our aspirations in the future.
My lips curve into a smile, at last, we are done with high school. "See you there," I respond finally, returning the salute.
"And now, it is with great pleasure that I call up this year's valedictorian; William Thomas Miller." The principal announces, gesturing for Will to take the stage.
The audience applauds as he makes his way up, and I have no doubt that our group is clapping the most emphatically. We're all separated for the most part since we have to sit in alphabetical order, but I still make it a point to look back at Tris, catching her beautiful eyes as I shoot her a grin. She smiles back at me, her cheeks tinting pink, and I chuckle to myself as I turn back around to see Will.
He's holding himself together rather well, like he does this on the daily, speaking in front of about a thousand people. He leans into the microphone. "Greetings students, faculty, and family members. Welcome to the Class of 2021 commencement ceremony. As this year's valedictorian, I have the great privilege of getting to address you all this afternoon.
"As I was deliberating over what to put in this speech, I started thinking about what high school has really meant to me these past 4 years. Since I am valedictorian, some might think that the exams, the grades, and the extra credit are what I'm going to remember walking out of here, and what I'm going to take with me as I go to college. But that's not the truth, not really, anyways.
"I'm proud of myself for those accomplishments, and for getting to be here today, and you all should be proud of yourselves for those same things, too, but to me, that's not really what high school is about. High school has been about camaraderie, about generosity, about love. I think everyone here can relate to that on some aspect; our favorite teachers making a boring class bearable, goofing off with our friends at the lunch table, our families supporting us through all of our various endeavors- whether that means attending our sports games, or coming to watch us compete in the spelling bee, or volunteering at our club fundraisers.
"I myself have found the best friends of my life these past four years, and I swear, I would write another one of Ms. Hartworth's ten page essays in MLA format if it meant I could spend just five more minutes with them on the bleachers after school, or hanging out in the library between classes." The audience all lets out a collective laugh at that. "But really, Class of 2021, I give you this; in the future years to come you are going to face so many trials and tribulations, and every time that something happens that you feel is too much, or that makes you want to give up, just remember all the spirit, all the companionship, and all the compassion that you've experienced, and know that no matter what, those things are still out there for you, as long as you don't fold. Know that I, along with everybody else sitting here, believes the best in you. Thank you all for the past four years, and the journey that we've all gotten to experience alongside one another."
He receives a standing ovation for about two whole minutes.
"Christina Jessica Allen." Christina is the first in our friend group to receive her diploma. She eagerly dashes up to the stage, shaking the principal's hand quickly, and striking a dramatic pose with the certificate. I chuckle briefly, I've always liked Christina, she is kind, and a solid best friend to Tris. She's headed to the University of Illinois-Chicago, so she won't be too far from her beau, Will.
"Marlene Adeline Davis." Marlene's face is bright as she accepts her diploma, waving to her family and blowing a kiss to Uriah. I'm still not exactly certain of the nature of their relationship, but they seem to be on good terms as of now. Like Tris, Marlene is also heading abroad, to the Milan Fashion School.
"Tobias Marcus Eaton." I'm the next person in our group to go, and I can feel my heartbeat in my ears as I approach the stage, praying I won't fall or do something else to make a fool of myself. The principal's handshake is firm as he congratulates me, and I look out into the sea of people to see my father videotaping on his phone, and to see the Prior family all cheering for me, and finally, to see Tris, giving me a look of adoration. I return it to the best of my ability. Duke, here I come.
"Lynn Daniella Larson." It's not often that you see Lynn smile, and when she does, it's very shy, like she's embarrassed to be seen showing any sort of emotion. She wears that expression now as she accepts her diploma, waving to her family who is going crazy in the audience. Lynn is headed to the Pratt Institute of Design in New York, to achieve her dream of being an artist.
"William Thomas Miller." Our valedictorian takes center stage once again, I notice him wink at Christina after he grabs his diploma. Will, as smart as he is, will be attending the University of Chicago.
"Beatrice Natalie Prior." Tris, my Tris, is positively radiant as she approaches the stage. I'm grinning like a fool, and clapping like a madman, I just know it, but I'm so insanely proud of her. And the fact that I get to stay in her life even as we go to a different future makes it all the better. She looks over to her family fondly, and then looks back to me, her eyes gleaming as she gives me a knowing stare. She's going to be doing amazing things at Wellington, I am quite sure.
"Uriah Maxwell Pedrad." Uriah is the final person in our group to be called up. He throws a fist in the air excitedly, waving to his whole family, and blowing a kiss to Marlene as she had done for him. Even though we are the same age, Uriah is sort of the little brother I never had, and watching him come this far with being a devoted uncle, and also heading to the University of British Columbia, a prestigious school, makes me so thrilled for him. He will be taking a gap year this next year to spend more time with his niece, and to clear his head before college, which is a solid plan for him. It's crazy to me that all of us actually have our adult futures ahead of us.
"And now, I give you the Class of 2021. Please rise." All of us rise, moving our tassels over to the other side, before tossing our caps up high in the air. I'm met with the rush of the feeling as mine tumbles back down, falling back perfectly into my hand. I turn around to see Tris embracing Caleb, and I approach them, pulling Caleb into a gentle hug as well, before I turn to my girlfriend.
"We did it!" She exclaims.
"I know we did," I smile down at her momentarily, before forcefully crashing my lips to hers. It doesn't matter to me that we are in a sea of people, or that Caleb is making noises of disgust. All that matters right now is her, and that we get to share this moment together.
Thank you all for being patient with me. I hope you enjoyed this chapter. The story is going to start moving into a different direction now! See you next Sunday.