Rating: G

Disclaimer: Nope. They aren't mine.

Feedback: Please!!!

Spoilers: Uh…nothing too specific, for the most part…up thru Season Seven of Buffy, I guess. And Angel spoilers for "You're Welcome", "A Hole in the World"/"Shells", and "Not Fade Away".

Summary: Buffy's POV. Dawn graduates from high school.

I'm so proud of her.

I can't believe it. My little sister. Not only did she live until her high school graduation, but she's graduating with honors. Mom would have been proud. I wish she could see Dawnie, see the look of anticipation she's had on her face since April. Mom never got to see either of her daughters graduate.

            I'll have to be proud for her. This isn't a problem—my heart is so full of love and pride that it feels like it's going to burst.

            I've lost so many people over the years…some have come back, some not. Anya, Tara, Cordy, Angel, Spike, Oz, Riley, even Willow was out of her mind for a while…I'm so glad I haven't lost Dawnie. Even when I was sure I'd lost myself, she was there, a tiny pinprick light of hope in the dark. Of course, I had friends, but she's family. Summers blood. Just about all I have left, unless you count Dad. It's embarrassing to even call him my father. Giles surpassed him long ago.

            Giles is sitting next to me now, as a matter of fact. He looks at me, and I can tell he's as proud of Dawn as I am. We're definitely his daughters. Who cares about what a piece of legal paper says or doesn't say? Family isn't just blood, it's deeper than that. Giles is that and everything else.

            Willow and Kennedy sit on the other side of me, holding hands. Willow is beaming with joy for Dawnie. I have a feeling she'll cry during the ceremony. I have a feeling I will too. Kennedy looks happy, but she doesn't know Dawn like the rest of us. I'm glad she's here anyway.

            Xander sits behind me and pokes me in the back of the neck. This kind of reminds me when we were in high school, when we were ready to graduate. Except this time, it's gonna be perfect. Only the best for my sister.

            "Move your head," Xander whispers. "I can only see out of one eye, and all it can really see at the moment is your hair."

            I scoot my metal folding chair over a couple inches so Xander can see. A breeze ruffles my hair. It's gorgeous out. An LA graduation. Dawn moved from Rome to LA last year to finish school in the states. I missed all the assemblies, the games, the teenage traumas. She visited in the summer, though, and told me all about it. In Italian, at my insistence. Nothing wrong with practicing another language.

            But I wouldn't miss this for the world.

            The music, Pomp and Circumstance, I think it's called, starts up and I get the camcorder ready. There she is! Dawnie files on stage with her class, dressed in her navy blue graduation robe and cap. It's a much better color than my graduation stuff was.

            The principal welcomes us all, and then introduces the speakers. Dawn had told me about this. Five students were doing speeches. The school chose the kids who could speak well, form words into beauty. I listen politely to the unfamiliar names, names that mean nothing to me. Except for the last one. "…Dawn Summers," the principal finishes.

            Dawnie didn't tell me she was giving a speech! I glance at Willow, who is practically dancing with happiness. "She wanted it to be a surprise for you," Willow explained. "I promised not to tell."

            I quickly say into the camera, "La mia sorella sta dando un discorso." My sister is giving a speech. I have friends in Rome that are dying to see this.

            I listen politely to the speeches, giving a brief summary during the applause after each one: "La nostra vita è inizio giusto", "Cose che abbiamo imparato", and so on. But now it's her turn.

            She stands gracefully and walks to the podium, confident and excited.

            "Well," she says. She scans the crowd and sees me. She grins. "Well, here we are, on graduation day. I sometimes find it hard to believe I made it this far. So many things in life could go wrong. I could die, my friends could leave, my family could disappear from my life. I could drop out, or be kidnapped…countless things. So before I begin, I'd like to direct our thoughts toward the people who didn't make it to their graduation. The people who tried but fell short. The lives lost or wasted. The people who experienced these problems." She looks around the crowd. "And those that can rise above them." The crowd is quiet.

            "Graduation," she begins, "is not only the end of our academic career, to some extent, but the end of childhood. We're on our own. And it's scary. But the fear is exhilarating. It pushes us to be our best, because now when we fail, no one is there to catch us when we fall. Of course, there are always people who will soften the blow, but you are your own person now. And you're the person you were becoming all your life. So, I wanted my speech to be about the lessons I've learned outside school, the ones a book can't teach and a test can't measure. My book was my family, and my test is still coming. I am still a child. But not for long.

            "I learned my first lesson early on: Marshmallows are not really monkey brains." There are a few small chuckles from those assembled, and I remember the time I said that to Dawn when we were young, so I could take all of them from her hot chocolate.

            "My other lessons were more important," Dawn continues. "I learned this: Have complete faith in yourself and your abilities. I know most everyone here does. How else would we have gotten this far?

            "The second lesson was taught to me by my sister, on a number of occasions: Seize the day, because tomorrow you might be dead. No one knows what's coming. If you die tomorrow, will you be satisfied with the life you lived? Or do you have tasks left undone, things left unsaid? Do them. Say them. One day, you may not be able to.

            "Learn as if you could learn forever. If you limit yourself, others will limit you too.

            "Don't be afraid of who you are. Don't be ashamed. You are special, and no one will respect you until you respect yourself.

            "Never, ever believe that death is the end of everything. True, the deceased's body is gone, but the spirit remains. Make them proud of you. They don't want you to sink because of them.

            "Trust others, but don't rely on them. Should the day ever come when you are left on your own, make sure you can float without a life preserver.

            "Forgive. Don't forget completely, but forgive. And do it right away. Tomorrow you may not be here, and they might not be either. Don't take that chance.

            "Keep an open mind. Living with a closed mind is like living in a closed box; you miss out, on the light and the fun and all the other great stuff. But maintain your values. If you let others decide for you, there's no point in living."

            How right she is.

            "Know your friends well," she continues, "but know your enemies better. And be prepared. You never know what's coming."

            I can anticipate what she is going to say next, and I have no idea how I know, but I do.

            "You may think you know who you are, what's to come, but you don't. You've barely begun."

            She looks out over the crowd. "I know some people who can tell you that."

            I smile, ignoring the tear rolling down my cheek. My sister. She isn't a key anymore, she isn't my responsibility, my charge. She's my sister.

            And I'm proud.

I started this months ago and just had to finish it, especially in time for all the graduations this year. Congrats to all you graduates out there!