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Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Graduation (08/30/04)

TITLE: Graduating Through Death
By Rebekah Bentley


I took my place behind the podium and scanned the audience. My parents sat in the middle of the right row, proud of their oldest daughter, class valedictorian. Next to them was an empty seat; it seemed hauntingly symbolic and I could hardly hold back the tears that threatened to spill over as I began my speech.

"She was five foot two with blonde hair, green eyes, and a warm smile. Most of you loved her and she loved you back with an unrivaled loyalty. Some of you teased her, thought she was "weird," or were afraid because she was different - she loved you anyway." Several of my classmates shifted uncomfortably in their seats, others already had visible traces of tears on their cheeks. I smiled and continued.

"Elyssa had Down syndrome. My beautiful twin sister was never smart enough to make it to high school graduation, but she was still wise enough to teach me many valuable lessons. It was from her that I learned to treasure the first blossoms of spring. She taught me that sometimes it's a good thing to just sit in silence, and that there are more stars in the sky than any human can ever count. Elyssa also taught me that graduating is simply moving on to the next stage in life.

"You see, graduation is not a stopping place after twelve years of work, graduation is what happens when we take what we have learned, from any aspect of life, and apply it towards the next step. It is the moving on, the learning and growing, achieving the next and better thing - that is what graduation truly is."

I swallowed hard and took a deep breath, still fighting back the tears.

"Elyssa had Down syndrome. Two years ago we discovered that she also had leukemia. Last week as I was sitting in her hospital room, trying to write the speech I would give today, she told me that she was moving on.

"Graduation is a moving on, the act of stepping into something better." I looked out over the graduates, pausing to meet their gazes as I spoke, imploring them not to forget. "Remember that. Please don't let this be a stopping place."

I sighed and continued.

"For Elyssa there would never be a college dorm, a first job, or even a high school diploma. The only graduation she would know would be to live a more beautiful life, and for someone who found beauty in everything, heaven was the only option. Somehow she knew this." I glanced over at the empty seat beside my parents and let the tears slip down my cheeks.

"Elyssa died yesterday and as I held her cold hand in mind, I held her words in my heart, 'You're going to graduate tomorrow, Elynn, and I'm graduating, too.'"

As I walked back to my seat, silence rang throughout the auditorium. Then, as one, the graduating class of 2004 stood and gave a deafening standing ovation. But it wasn't for me, it was for Elyssa.

Member Comments
Member Date
Melanie Kerr 09/07/04
A beautiful and moving account. It would have been so easy to use the death of her sister to opt out of amking the speech, but she chose to use the moment.
darlene hight09/07/04
This is so beautiful! But it's not nice to make people cry! A beautiful tribute!
shirley shields09/07/04
What a wonderful tribute to your sister. God Bless you for sharing.
Rebekah Bentley09/07/04
NOTE: This is fiction! :)
Teresa Lee Rainey09/07/04
Rebekah, Your fiction made me cry. Thank you.
B Price09/07/04
had tears down my cheek, thanks for letting us know it was fiction...

A moving story, Elyssa the way you describe her would be someone that would be very special indeed...
Kenny Paul Clarkson09/07/04
Lynda Lee Schab 09/08/04
I loved this piece. It was moving, well-written, and touched my heart.
Great job!
Blessings, Lynda
L.M. Lee09/08/04
oh wow...what a moving piece.
Rochelle Valasek09/09/04
You could at least have given us a hint that it was a hankerchef moment! lol
This was gorgeous, inspiring and seemed so real! That is a sign of a great writer!
Lucian Thompson09/10/04
Your story tears at my heart. Down syndrome children are the most loving, caring people on the face of the earth. I am blessed to be close to a young lady with DS. She has taught me so much about love and finding joy in the small things of life. God picks the most precious flowers first! I am looking forward to seeing Elyssa on my graduation day. I know she will give me, a perfect stranger, a great big hug!
Margaret Reed09/10/04
Wonderful, beautifully told!