South graduation: Mix of nostalgia and excitement

Bittersweet. Like the coffee from all the 7 a.m. Dunkin trips before first block, when we were bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, clumsily trying to smuggle in the cup of black coffee past the security office.

Nostalgic. The last lunch from the cafeteria, the gooey yellow nacho cheese and corn chips remind me of my first day of freshman year, when my biggest worry was navigating around the lunchroom.

Four years. One of the most vivid memories I have is of my first day of high school; I was sitting in my physical science classroom nervously fidgeting with my notebook in a room full of strangers. The teacher, Paul Wheaton, looked around at our young, anxious faces, grinned and said: "The next four years are going to fly by. Before you know it, you’re going to be seniors."

Of course, I didn’t believe him then. I was too worried about navigating to my next class to think past the next day, let alone the next four years. But sure enough, in a blink of an eye, there we were, awkward freshman just trying to stay under the radar until the last bell rang suddenly transformed into seniors, standing proudly in our flimsy gowns and decorated caps. We are taller, more confident; we stood up straighter; we didn’t fidget anymore. We are ready to show the world that we managed to survive not only four blocks, but four years.

The atmosphere before graduation June 19th was electric. We stood in the dark hallways of the Verizon Center, an unvoiced understanding that this was the last time we’d ever all be in the same room. People that you managed to share four years with yet still seeing for the first time on graduation day, people that were strangers on the first day of freshman year but after countless homework sessions and weekend adventures, are now your closest friends. People that you admire, that you grew apart from. This was it. The graduating class of 2016.

As we all walked into the stadium, the crowd roaring, there were shared glances of excitement, fear, regret. This was it. We’ve all grown tremendously since freshman year. The person sitting in the Verizon Center, adorned in cap and gown, was not the same person sitting in physical science four years earlier. We’re covered in new fingerprints, proof of the countless interactions we’ve had over the last four years. From the most dedicated teachers to determined classmates, the last four years have taught us more than ever before about who we want to become.

It’s time for us to move on. To the ‘real world,’ to bigger things. But for now, we sit quietly, savoring the last of this moment, like bittersweet coffee.

South graduate Shani Zhang is taking a gap year before attending college.