Chapter Five – Graduation

It was almost time for the ceremony. Wataru stared into space as the hours leading to the graduation ceremony became minutes. He wondered how he was going to confess his feelings to Mami. He began to drift into yet another daydream in a day filled with passing thoughts. He had planned this out in his head, repeatedly playing out what he would tell her. Sinking deeper into his contemplation, Wataru had a big smile across his face. The words were all there, and the scene was set to finally confess his love for Mami. The setting was breathtaking. It was an absolutely gorgeous, starlit night. The full moon shone down on the two friends, its ambient light radiating off of Mami's hair, and making her big blue eyes sparkle as brilliantly as the daylight sky. Wataru and Mami sat alone at the end of the pier, just talking about the past three years and what everyone has been through. Wataru gazed deeply into Mami's eyes, as if to peer into her very soul. "Mami," Wataru began, "I have something that I need to get off of my chest; something that I've been meaning to tell you for two years now." Mami responded, "What is it, Bud? Are you all right?" Wataru paused briefly as he collected his thoughts. He had never had the courage to do anything remotely close to this before; however, it was high time that he explain how he felt. He stammered at first, and became more confident as the words rolled off his lips. "Mami, we've known each other as strangers for the last two years, and we've known each other period for three. Ever since the day I decided to stay here on Promised Island and witnessed your reaction, I thought about you in a totally different light." Wataru paused for a second, then continued, saying, "To be perfectly honest with you, Mami, your reaction caused my heart to skip a beat." Mami was silent, intently taking in every word that her friend had to say. She thought to herself, "If Bud's going to say what I think he's going to, he's got a lot of guts." She smiled supportively as she appreciated Wataru's newfound courage. "Are you serious, Bud?" Mami asked, "Is it really time to graduate?" Wataru gazed into her eyes, responding, "But, Mami, we've already graduated."

Mami tapped Wataru on his head, saying, "It's time to go to the ceremony, Bud, come on!" She waved her hand in front of his eyes, snapping Wataru back to reality in the process. "What the heck were you just saying there, Bud? We haven't graduated yet. Are you okay?" Mami asked with concern. As groggy as he was, Wataru was finally aware of his surroundings. His face blushed immediately, and he responded, "Yes, Mami, I'm okay; I guess I was just daydreaming again. Some day this is, huh?" Pulling him along, Mami and Wataru had to walk quickly to catch up to their classmates. As they caught up with Karen and Yamada, Wataru wiped the sweat off of his forehead with his handkerchief. Karen turned to Wataru, and said, "Well, Big Brother, this is it! Are you nervous?" Wataru thought sadly for a moment, and said, "Yeah, Karen, I'm a little nervous, and a little sad as well. Do you realize this is the final time we will walk down this hall?" Karen was taken aback as the gravity of her brother's words sank in. She responded, "Congratulations, Big Brother. Let's graduate." With that, the entire senior class lined up outside the door, waiting for the customary march to the front of the auditorium. A few sniffles could be heard, but other than that, the hall was so quiet that a one could hear a needle clank against the floor. The doors to the auditorium opened, and the principal could be heard on the public address system. He fervently announced, "And now, I proudly present to you the Stargazer Hill West University graduating class of 2004!" A thunderous standing ovation followed as the graduating seniors filed into the auditorium, single file, and took their seats at the front of the room. As the applause died down, the principal came back to the podium. He took the microphone and began his opening speech. "Fellow faculty, students, family, and alumni, we gather here today to commemorate a major accomplishment in the lives of all of our graduating seniors. Today is a special day, a day of reflection, a day of remembrance, a day of coming of age. We sincerely congratulate you, our graduating seniors, this glorious day, and we wish all of you nothing but the best of luck and ultimate prosperity in the future." A round of applause ensued, and whistles and cries of encouragement could be heard from the rest of the crowd. As the ovation subsided, the principal was handed a framed certificate. Taking the microphone once again, the principal said, "And now, on behalf of all of the faculty, staff, and administration here at Stargazer Hill West University I am delighted to present this esteemed certificate of distinction to the student who has earned the highest grade point average of all senior classmates. Ladies and gentlemen, your valedictorian for the Stargazer Hill West University graduating class of 2004 is none other than Mr. Wataru Minakami!" Thunderous applause immediately cascaded from the rafters, and his sisters and friends, scattered all over the auditorium, stood up and encouraged Wataru. As he approached the stage, more people stood up and the applause seemed to crescendo to a deafening level. By the time Wataru reached the principal, everyone was standing and cheering him on. The principal handed him the certificate and bowed to him. Wataru bowed back in respect and humbleness. Turning to the crowd, Wataru saw everyone applauding for him, and he bowed to the crowd in complete humility. Walking off of the stage, he slowly returned to his seat.

As Wataru took his seat, Karen turned to him and said cheerfully, "Congratulations, Big Brother." The newly-dubbed valedictorian said, "Thank you so much, Karen." The principal took the microphone again and continued the ceremony. "And now, let us all rise and sing our alma mater," he said. The sound of the piano filled the auditorium, and everyone began singing their school's alma mater. Joy could be seen in some seniors' eyes, others had tears in theirs. At the end of the rendition, the principal said, "And now, a word of inspiration from your valedictorian, Mr. Wataru Minakami!" Yet again, raucous applause could be heard, and Karen stood up, yelled joyfully, "That's it; go for it, Big Brother!" That prompted huge roars of approval from the crowd, as they all stood up again in support of their friend. Wataru took the microphone, and the loudness of the applause intensified to deafening levels once again. Wataru bowed to the crowd and smiled, humbled at all of the support they gave him. Roughly thirty seconds later, the applause died down, followed by complete silence. "Thank you all so much," Wataru began with humility, scanning the crowd, "I appreciate everything each and every one of you did for me these past three years. Senior class, my friends, peers, brothers, and sisters, as we embark on our future…" He paused nervously for a second; he then tossed his notes aside. As his cards fluttered toward the floor, he gained confidence as he began again, saying "Wait a minute. I want to speak from my heart. Before I was accepted here, I was a lonely person. I secluded myself in obscurity, shutting myself away from the world. Then something happened, something that forever changed my life. I fell off of a boat into the ocean. As I was going down – I couldn't swim at the time – my dear sister Karen grabbed my arm and saved me from going under. Since then, I've learned to open my heart to my friends and family." Wataru continued on, "My life has become so much better than I imagined after that day. What I'm trying to say, dear friends, is this: learn humility, open your hearts, and live life to the fullest. Savor every second of it, and don't ever close yourself to your friends. This advice will make you happier, like it has done for me. I leave you all by saying one more thing. Thank you all so much for being my friends." Wataru set the microphone back into its stand, and took a long, slow bow toward the crowd as a sign of utmost gratitude. An immediate round of applause ensued, and he bowed again. The ovation subsided as Wataru made his way back to his seat.

The principal took the microphone, and said, "Thank you, very much, Mr. Minakami. We all should live by your words. Without further ado, we will now present the diplomas." The piano began playing, and each senior was called, one by one. They each took a bow toward the audience, and walked back to their seats, remaining standing. When Wataru's name was called, however, the crowd interrupted with another ovation. Wataru did not linger; instead, he bowed and returned to his seat just like the seniors before him. After the last senior returned to her seat, the principal exclaimed, "And now, I present to you for the final time, your Stargazer Hill West University graduating class of 2004!" A round of applause ensued, the seniors throwing their caps into the air as cries of joy emanated from most of them. The cheers died down, and the ceremony was over. Everyone filed back to their respective classrooms, signaling the end of another school year.