I set the sheet of white paper down against the podium. My flimsy gown fluttered in the breeze that offered only a hint of respite from the heat. I adjusted the microphone, pulling it toward me. "Good morning, family, teachers, friends, and most importantly, the members of the Laguna Beach High School graduating class of 1981."
I scanned the bleachers. "Hubert H. Humphrey stated that the heroes of the world community are not those who withdraw when difficulties ensue, not those who can envision neither the prospect of success nor the consequence of failure, but those who stand the heat of battle. That battle can be a figurative one, such as choosing to speak out against injustice in your daily lives. As we have witnessed, it can also be a literal one in a world where a President can be struck down by a madman's bullet, in a day when the ultimate fate of his press secretary remains uncertain nearly three months later."
"As we move from high school to what lies beyond it, we make the transition from having heroes to being heroes. Our college classmates, our colleagues, our future children will all be looking for an example to follow, and each one of us has the potential to fill that role. We will all do great things throughout our lives, but we don't need to be extraordinary to be heroes. We don't need to be movie stars, athletes, public figures. The mark of a true hero is in his embodiment of certain heroic virtues. Strength. Integrity. Dependability. Commitment."
My eyes rested on my mother, four rows from the front. She was beaming. The empty seat to her right gaped at me. "We must strive to be the ones others depend on," I continued. "We must demonstrate strength and integrity, selflessness and honesty. Each one of us can be somebody's hero. Thank you."
The resounding applause sounded hollow in my ears. I stepped off the platform onto the grass, and Rick Fairfield slapped me on the back as I trudged back to my seat. Tina planted a wet kiss on my neck. "Awesome," she said.
Afterward, I stood frozen as my mother waded toward me through the sea of gold. "Oh, honey, that was terrific," she said, pressing me to her chest.
She pulled back, still clutching my forearms. "How lucky were they that the guy with the best grade point average also happened to be the state champion in Original Oratory this year at the tournament at Stanford?"
My lips felt numb. I didn't respond.
"I wish your father could have been here," she said, and my eyes fell to the ground. "He really wanted to come. He called right before I drove out to the school. He's so proud of you, honey."
I fought the sudden spark of hope in my chest, but it spread to my face before I could squelch it, tugging at the corners of my mouth. I looked up.
My mother smiled back, and it was almost enough.