I shifted in the stiff-back folding chair, locking my hands together, so I wouldn’t gnaw on my nails. I glanced down as my stomach twirled like a continuous cartwheel.
Shuffling chairs, moving people, and mumbled voices echoed through the auditorium. I cranked my neck around, straining to find my mom and dad. They’ve gotta be here. Earlier, my mom had said, “We’re so proud of you, graduating from fifth-grade. Remember, what I’ve always told you?”
My mom continued, “You can do everything through Christ.”
I smiled, but inwardly wondered if she really meant it. My graduating wasn’t from a regular classroom like my brothers and sisters, but from what I had overheard being called, ‘the slow class.’
Before coming into this classroom, I couldn’t do the work no matter how hard I tried. I wanted to do well, but I couldn’t remember stuff like everyone else. I wanted to make my mom and dad proud, since they’d brought me all the way from Russia. They’d given me a real home, instead of living with all those kids in what my mom called the ‘Home for Children.’ I could now sleep without being hungry and no big boys stole my food. If I needed clothes or shoes, my mom took me shopping . When I was sick, I went to the doctor. And I even had my very own bike – Something in Russia I only dreamed about.
I stared at the stage. Yikes! I’ve gotta go all the way up there and give my speech. I tried to swallow the marble-sized lump forming in my throat.
Feeling a tap on my shoulder I turned around.
“We’re sitting, over there,” my mom pointed. “We’ll be watching.”
I smiled as I sank deeper into my chair, my face growing warm.
The crowd hushed as Ms. Motz,* my teacher, walked forward. I sat up straighter, biting my bottom lip to prevent cheers from surfacing as she took the microphone.
“Alena Bury, we’ll start with you. Come on up.”
I stood up, making my way to the stage on legs feeling like overcooked noodles. Ms. Motz handed me the microphone.
I cleared my throat, which now felt like sandpaper. I held onto my note cards with trembling hands. “Dear Mom and Dad, Thank you for bringing me from Russia. I have lots of food and money, and you love me so much. I will try to take good care of you and help out at home. Thank you for doing everything for me. I will love you both forever. I have fun with the whole family.”
I looked up across the sea of grown-ups, and found my parents. My mom had tears running down her cheeks, and my dad held onto his glasses as he wiped his eyes with his sleeve. As I walked away, the roar of clapping filled the room.
Later in the ceremony, the awards part started. All the smart kids received awards for high grades, and doing important stuff, like sports. I squirmed, wishing we could just skip this part, and go pig-out on all the cookies and brownies. As I shuffled my feet back and forth, I heard my name blare through the auditorium. I pointed to my chest, and mouthed the words, “Me?”
My teacher nodded as I stood up, my palms sweating. I walked toward my teacher’s outstretched hand. I shook her hand, as she announced, “This award is called Educational Improvement. It’s for students who have worked exceptionally hard and improved their grades. We only picked one student from our school to receive this award. It’s signed by the President of the United States.” She held it up. “And we would like to present this to you!” My heart pounded so hard it felt like it had moved to my throat as she handed it to me. Grasping my certificate, she reached out and hugged me. Pulling back from the embrace, I looked out again as the crowd cheered and clapped.
I sat down as the rest of the ceremony took place, staring at my certificate. I may not be as smart as some other kids, but I won something of my very own. I’ll remember this day for forever – my fifth-grade graduation. And I nodded as my mom’s words came to me, “You can do everything through Christ.” She’s right! I can!