High school graduation (June 2005): There was a torrential downpour just before the ceremony, so we sat outside in lightening. 511 people in my class. I graduated as a junior, so while I knew a couple of people and knew of some, I felt completely out of place. I hated it, and I only went because my parents "had" to see me walk. Later that summer, I fought hard not to have a graduation party, but my mom really wanted to, so we kept it small. I hid as much as I could inside and had stopped talking less than halfway through it.
College graduation (May 2009): Inside a zillion-degree gymnasium because it rained outside. Afterward, while everyone went out and took pictures and enjoyed their friends, I hurried back to my room, packed up, and left within a few hours. I was in a horrible mood at my parents, who were in horrible moods at one another (parents = mom and stepdad, dad and stepmom). I have no pictures from that day, and I saw no friends. The few quasi-friends I had were much more interested in their "real" friends. I don't know that I talked to any of my peers all day. No party, no out to eat, not even a word of "congratulations" from anyone but my six and eight year old sisters.
Partial graduation (today): Fourteen patients, four us graduated today. I got to speak to the group and to any individuals I wanted to address. I was praised for my specific strengths and all the things I've worked so hard to improve. I laughed, some people cried. We have all grown together so much in the past weeks. There was a cake and ice cream, congratulations, and phone numbers and emails exchanged. I left with friends- the real kind, who have seen me at my worst, who wait so patiently when I try to get words out even when they're wobbly, who like me anyway. I got three texts when I left my first day of work asking how it was, telling me how proud of me they are. I earned my third diploma today, and you know what? I don't know which lessons were more valuable.
The cake from today... thanks to one amazing woman!