I remember those car rides home from school with my friends, discussing who in our grade would make the best valedictorian.
The funny thing is, I had never intended on applying. I was scarred from my runner up finish in the eighth grade to be valedictorian. If I couldn’t win then, how could I win now?
But after some unexpected support from an acquaintance, and heavy persuading from my friends, I decided to take the plunge and fill out an application. Why not?
Two weeks later, my English teacher kept me after class.
She held up a package. “Congratulations, you are one of the final four candidates for valedictorian.”
“No way,” I gasped, incredulous.
She smiled. “Yes way!”
I met the other finalists after school in a Final Four meeting. There, we were told that we had two days to write persuasion speeches, which we would read to the graduating class. The voting would commence the day after.
I worked furiously on my speech, neglecting all other homework to perfect it. One of my friends texted me. Apparently one of the candidates—I’ll call him Gary—had sent out an incredibly overconfident tweet. Something about how winning valedictorian would be easy.
Well, didn’t that just fuel my fire.
I refused to come second again, especially to an arrogant kid.
Soon enough I was standing up on stage with the other candidates. As the audience filed into the auditorium, we drew numbers out of a Tupperware container.
Gary went first. I went third.
Here’s where things get a little fuzzy for me. I just remember wiping my sweaty palms on my khakis. The thing is, I’ve never suffered from stage fright. I’ve performed in front of audiences many times, so I know that I can stand up and speak.
But Gary was the favourite. I was the underdog, and had a lot to prove.
Before I knew it, I was called up to the podium.
I could hear my friends and boyfriend screaming for me, but everyone else was just clapping politely.
Let’s go, Becca, I said to myself. You’re a writer and performer. This is what you do best.
And without hesitation, I began. I spoke about how I wasn’t even going to apply until I had been convinced otherwise. And then I did what the others didn’t: I appealed to their emotions, talking nostalgia and how much we’ve grown. Nearing the end of my speech, I could see people holding back tears and wiping their faces. But there were still some unconvinced faces, and I had two lines left to go.
It was now or never.
“The final pages of this book we call high school are approaching. My name is Rebecca Tunney, and I would be honoured to write the epilogue.”
I swear the entire school shook. The applause was earth-shattering, people banging on their tables and cheering loudly.
And it was all for me. Maybe I did have a shot.
The next two weeks were incredibly nerve wracking. I had a lot of supporters, but I heard of just as many people voting for Gary. It was neck-in-neck.
The winner was announced on a Monday. And I was home sick that day.
My phone started ringing around 9:30 AM.
“OMG BECCA YOU WON!!!!!!”
“BECCA YOU’RE VALEDICTORIAN!!!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!”
I could hardly believe it. I had to call my friends for reassurance.
I did it.
…I did it.
I did it!
The other candidates congratulated me, too—well, except for Gary, understandably. (By the way, that tweet disappeared).
The following months were spent convening with English teachers about my speech every other afternoon. I must’ve rewritten it about ten times before grad. In fact, I was still editing it with a blue pen in my seat as the diplomas were being handed out.
After the cap tossing and award-giving was finished, it was time to put all that hard work to good use. I approached the microphone, head held high with a broad grin on my face.
My speech was written like a story. I retold every grade, leading up until that moment, and then reminded the class to not lose themselves out in a world that does its best to make them just like everybody else.
After all, that’s how I ended up on that stage. I was myself. I learned about my weaknesses and used my strengths to my advantage.
And SLNers, if there’s a moral that you should take away from this tale, that’s it. Never count yourself out, not until the very end. Don’t forget who you are and what you’re capable of.
You might surprise yourself as much as I did.
Photo of the author by Baldwin Barbieto.
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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.