I was mainly a face to many people during my four years at Hopewell Valley Central High School. Students did not necessarily know me unless they were talking about swimming. I was known as one of the faster swimmers on the varsity swim team and my team-mates nicknamed me “the beast” during practices for my ability to complete tough interval workouts. Most people however, did not know that I also had musical talents unless they were in my close circle of friends. My peers knew that I was a hardworking athlete, and a reserved student who strived to get “A”s in advanced science courses, but they did not know that I believed in allowing music to speak for me until my graduation night.
It was clear, 75 degrees and sunny on the night of my graduation. By 6:30pm I was seated with the senior class. I was wearing a crisply ironed black graduation gown, and a delicate sliver music note necklace that my mom gave to me. My cap was pinned tightly to my rigid curls and I distinctly remember the smell of the mounds of hairspray that I had put in my hair earlier that evening. The stage was surrounded by bouquets of black, white and yellow flowers that were situated on tall, majestic pillars. Hundreds of chairs spanned the varsity field hockey field. I felt my heart beating rapidly through my chest when I stared at the stage. Three tiers of risers and three microphones were set up for the graduation song. At that moment, I realized that during the ceremony I would be singing my first and last solo in front of my entire class.
After about ten minutes of war with my nerves, I stepped up to a microphone. My hands were shaking when I heard the guitar’s introduction to Ben E. King’s Stand by Me. I clearly remember seeing 285 black and gold tassels swinging before me in the gentle breeze. Hundreds of eyes were on me when I sang the first verse but despite the unwavering pairs of eyes, I was able to stop shaking and sing with my heart.
I did not realize the power of the music until I saw how my mom and the senior class reacted to the song. Immediately after the senior class tossed their caps into the air, my mom shuffled through the crowd to find me. Her eyes were moist when she said, “I’m so proud of you! I had tears in my eyes when you were singing!” Before I had a chance to respond, my friends approached me and said that students around them were asking each other who was singing during my solo. They were impressed, but they could not see over rows of caps to see that it was me. I was very moved by my mom’s reaction and thrilled to know that my classmates didn’t just blow off the song in anticipation of receiving their diplomas. I felt like my classmates experienced the same bittersweet emotions of moving on and being together one last time that I did during my solo. It was truly a powerful experience to be able to reach out and have an impact on my mom, my classmates and the hundreds of people watching by singing a simple melody.
For the first time during a performance, I was able to diminish my nerves because I knew that the music was speaking for me. I was able to abandon my reserved personality so that I could allow my mixed emotions about the ceremony to reach the audience. It was an incredible feeling to communicate my emotions without physically stating a word or giving a formal speech. I believe that music has the ability to speak for me, and I think about this every time I wear my music note necklace.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.