Summary: "... to Hell with everyone and your bigotries and hatred; I'm doing this and I'm going to succeed ..."
Archive Date: 02 August 2006
Ben looked around at the crowd; straightening his tie, repositioning his jacket. Not quite sure why he felt so nervous, but feeling the beads of sweat forming on his top lip anyway. He looked sideways at Michael, wondering if he too was this nervous and by the look on Michael's face, Ben had his answer.
Seeing Hunter graduate from High School was a dream come true for Ben and Michael. Their foster son meant the world to them and when the adoption went through they couldn't be more proud to call him their son.
Ben had made eye contact with Callie's parents a few minutes earlier and he noted that the uneasiness had disappeared from their faces; they no longer felt Hunter a threat to their daughter and had welcomed him into Callie's life. They had become such close friends and it made Ben's heart warm to know that Hunter had a close bond with someone his own age, a confidante. When Hunter made the decision to return to school and finish his education he knew it would be difficult but he also knew with Ben and Michael's help he would succeed; what he didn't count on, was having Callie there as well, spurring him on and dragging him kicking and screaming when it all seemed impossibly hard. Ben would always be grateful to Callie for being there for Hunter.
Ben spied Hunter and Callie sitting in the third row of student chairs, whispering with one another; huge smiles across their faces and a nervous energy about them that was palpable. Ben smiled and squeezed Michael's hand a little tighter.
Without looking at Ben, Michael said "He looks so happy doesn't he? So proud!"
"And so he should be; it's quite an achievement that he's here at all, let alone graduating with all his peers."
"Thanks to you; you were so great with him honey!"
"We all played a part Michael; you sat up with him into the early hours when he had papers due, plying him with coffee... You ran all over town looking for that textbook he needed for that project on molecules a couple of months back... he knows you were there for him."
"But you're the brains of this outfit, Professor! You were there every step of the way, tutoring him, letting him see that he had what it took to get through this. I know he feels that without your help he wouldn't be sitting here today."
Ben smiled, "Well all the credit needs to go his way; he's the one who made the brave decision in the first place to haul his ass back here and say to Hell with everyone and your bigotries and hatred; I'm doing this and I'm going to succeed. His stubbornness is what has him sitting here today, if nothing else! Your mother also played a huge part; she pushed him at the diner and she didn't give an inch. She made him work hard and showed him that there were so many wonderful opportunities and possibilities out there just waiting for him; showing him that hard work meant nothing if he didn't apply himself in the right way... He knew he wanted more than to work his life in the diner. She taught him some invaluable lessons... but I don't need to tell you that; I'm sure you know how great your mother is."
Michael smiled warmly and squeezed his husband's hand generously. One of the things that Michael was always grateful for, was that Ben held his mother so deeply in his heart; given their shaky beginnings and Deb's behaviour toward him; but Ben had come out the other end with a pure love and admiration for Deb and a knowing that all she ever really wanted was to keep her son safe and happy -- a sentiment that Ben shared wholeheartedly.
When the Principal stood up to begin proceedings Ben gripped Michael's arm and said nervously "This is it!"
Ben and Michael had been told by the Principal that a special award had been created in Hunter's honour and that it would be presented today and Ben's chest was bursting with pride and excitement but he also knew that Hunter would be beside himself, to have to get up there and perhaps be expected to say a few words but the Principal had wanted to keep it a surprise for Hunter, to show other students what was possible if you worked hard and exhibited sheer determination.
Speeches out of the way, the students began accepting their diplomas, alphabetically of course.
Nedlands, Joshua. Neilson, Patricia. Nilsson, Matthew. Norris, Christian. Novotny-Bruckner, Hunter.
Ben and Michael leapt to their feet as one and began cheering and clapping as loudly as they could; Hunter accepted his diploma and held it triumphantly above his head and looked out at the sea of faces until he caught sight of his fathers and just looked at them solidly and Ben and Michael saw all they needed to see, the love in Hunter's eyes told them everything they needed to hear.
As Hunter made his way off stage, Ben and Michael sat down and recollected their composure. He did it. Their son had a high school diploma in his hands. He made his way back to the student chairs and Callie threw her arms around him and they hugged tightly and squealed with delight at their achievement. Hunter then turned and found the faces of his fathers and each of them saw tears well in their son's face. He held up the diploma and the smiles on Ben and Michael's faces showed him how truly proud they were at that very moment. He held their gazes for a few long moments and Ben nodded to him; gesturing him to relax and enjoy his day.
Becky Trembath accepted her Valedictorian award and made her speech; a very long-winded but inspiring speech. Ben felt bad because he knew Hunter's award was next and he couldn't help but want Becky to just end her speech already. Michael stifled a yawn and Ben couldn't help but giggle. He whispered "Hang in there... can't be long now!"
The crowd began to get restless, thinking the proceedings were over with but when the Principal stood up, a hush fell across the field. The sun was shining brightly and the marching band had played the school song victoriously at the end of Becky's speech and everyone was feeling very patriotic.
"I have one last duty to perform today and then you can all go about your business, congratulate your children, brothers, sisters, cousins and enjoy in their achievements. I have great honour in presenting a special award. This award was created especially for this student but it will from here on in be handed out yearly to a deserving student who can encompass the true meaning of the award. The award is for great achievement and recognition of hard work. It has been dubbed the 'HNB' award and those initials proudly stand for honour, nobility and bravery... but moreover those initials stand for Hunter Novotny Bruckner! Hunter, please come and join me on stage."
Hunter had gone white in the face; what the Hell was going on. Did he hear his Principal correctly? He didn't know where to look; he wanted to run and hide. Callie grabbed his hands and said "Go! Hunter, it's all about you! You did this... Go up and there and stand proud! You deserve this! Go!"
Hunter nervously stood up. He looked at the stage and then felt his knees buckle. He quickly turned to find his fathers. Ben and Michael rose and slowly began applauding their son. Ben mouthed the word 'congratulations' and Hunter brushed away a tear. Michael pointed to the stage and smiled broadly, spurring Hunter to go up and accept his award.
Hunter finally stepped on stage and a thunderous round of applause sprang up from the crowd. He reached the dais and the Principal shook his hand strongly. When the crowd died down, the Principal began "Hunter didn't know anything about this award and obviously he is quite surprised. This award was borne out of admiration for Hunter's hard work and the way he applied himself. Many of you know of Hunter's circumstances and there is no need for me to rehash all the events that brought him here today; only to say that Hunter made a brave decision a few months back to return to school and receive his diploma and today is recognition of that decision. Not only did he pass with flying colours but he won the hearts and admiration of his peers and he showed them all what was possible if you put your mind to something and strove hard enough. Congratulations Hunter for leading by example and for being the first recipient of the HNB award."
A shiny plaque was handed to Hunter but he barely felt it in his hands and he certainly didn't focus long enough to read the inscription on it. He took the few tentative steps towards the microphone and accepted his applause.
He took a few moments to collect his thoughts and cleared his throat nervously. As the last titters of applause died down, Hunter began "To graduate here today is something I dreamed of for such a long time; I never believed it would happen... not really, but it was something I let myself dream... I figured there was nothing wrong with dreaming. Um... a while ago I took off and I closed this world off... I hated the world and everything in it and I decided to punish myself for feeling the way I did. I closed the doors to wonderful opportunities that had been handed to me and I closed the door to a love that I had never felt before, a love I didn't think I deserved... Two people had taken me into their lives and made me a part of their family and for some reason I never believed that they really meant it... how could they? I was a street kid with no education and nothing to offer; I lived a life that by no means exemplified anything admirable and I was HIV positive -- what possible reason did I give these people to see beyond any of that."
Ben and Michael each brushed away tears and held each other's hand tightly, their hearts so overwhelmed that it was painful; to hear Hunter say he didn't think he deserved their love -- any love... it broke their hearts. They remembered what it took for them to show Hunter that he was truly deserving of anything life could offer; and today was all about the culmination of building his self-worth, his self-esteem and his love for himself; so that he could truly believe that he did deserve love and so much more.
He continued; "Something happened in our lives a few months back that changed us all as people forever and I'll never take another day for granted as long as I live. I almost lost someone that is a part of me to a senseless act of hatred and cruelty and because he survived I vowed to never again let the world treat anyone that I love so badly. I made the decision to return here, to try my best and to make my family proud of me; it was the least I could do... but I also did it for myself. I made the decision to put into practice all the things they taught me and to make something of myself. I will always be grateful for their help, their love, their understanding and their commitment -- for showing me I was worth something. I want to thank my parents for being the shining examples in my life and for giving me this path and for walking down the path with me, holding me up and standing by me every step of the way. I'd like my parents to come up here with me..."
Ben and Michael rose unsteadily on their feet; they wanted so badly to hold Hunter right now -- to love him and show their pride to every person sitting on that football field. They quickly made their way to the stage and scooped Hunter up in their arms, the three of them in a huddle of compassion and love. Squeals of delight, thunderous applause and calls of congratulations echoed around the field.
When Hunter finally broke from the passionate embrace, he took to the microphone for one last moment, "My parents, Ben Bruckner and Michael Novotny Bruckner! I couldn't love them any more than I do right now. Thanks for loving me."
End of "Graduation Day" by Jannine (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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