New Air (part four: the end)

The last day of the semester is always a let-down.  I usually imagine some satisfying coda to the semester, and it always ends up being anticlimactic.  Some kids are absent; some kids STILL don’t turn in the missing essay(s), and you realize you might have to give them an F.  Everyone is antsy, anticipating the brief vacation.

Final speeches were due on the last day.  Some students were still revising final drafts while other kids spoke.  Some threatened not to go at all, still terrified, even though their speeches were in their hands, and this one counted double all the other assignments.

Nasir went.  He spoke about believing in judging a person for their character and not relying on stereotypes.

Jangly-nerved Melvin went, delivering his speech in a rush.  It was well-written, surprising: he’d changed topics three or four times and finally settled on this: “I believe in not reacting,” in turning the other cheek, in walking away from a fight, in acting like a man, not a little kid.  I was overjoyed.  He seemed to have learned something after all.  He seemed, in my hopeful eyes, seared by Minnie’s teary exit a few days earlier, despite his feigned nonchalance.

Tiny Mistique gave her speech in a whispered monotone, holding her hand next to her mouth.  She’d had a rough semester, and I was surprised (and proud) that she’d gotten up at all.  She spoke about the power of emotions.

Leela, always polished, delivered the speech she’d spent weeks revising.  It was about believing in knowing when to abandon a relationship, in this case, the one she had with her father.

Rudy gave a speech about believing that comedy could be a legitimate career.  We applauded.

And then it was Minnie’s turn.  She was the one scribbling all over her draft while Rudy spoke.

“I used to believe I am not beautiful,” she read defiantly.  “I used to believe that my sisters looked like goddesses, while I looked more like their servant.”

Apparently, she was not going to speak about “anti-war.”

She wrapped up her short speech, which had virtually the same material, but with key verbs changed and a few things added, with, “Now I know that my family has a problem, not me.  I believe I am unique.  I believe I am me.”

Something broke open in the room, and we all breathed new air.  I wiped tears from my eyes and tried not to show it.

There was no “moment,” no fanfare, no meaningful glance.  Minnie ended as she usually did, raising her eyebrows and looking down, muttering, “Yeah, so…”

But she’d claimed something, briefly held it aloft for all of us to see, and you could tell she was proud.


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