by Elliotte Harold
Greetings fellow graduates, parents, and faculty. No one is more surprised than me that I am speaking to you tonight. When we first walked through the big glass doors of Happy Valley High four years ago, did anyone imagine that this budding goth girl might one day be valedictorian of the class of 2014?
So many students studied more than me. So many worked harder than me. So many were smarter than me. Yet somehow none of them survived the high school gauntlet, so here I am. I didn’t even take any AP classes. In hindsight, that was probably lucky. Otherwise I might have suffocated on the chlorine gas Mary Llewellyn mixed from those mislabeled ingredients in chemistry lab. Or perhaps I would have suffered acute radiation sickness in AP Physics after that unfortunate typo on the laboratory supply form. You probably wouldn’t have found me in AP Biology though. My strict vegetarian principals made me uncomfortable dissecting fetal pigs. Who could have guessed that my squeamishness would save me from contracting flesh-eating bacteria? There’s a lesson about the importance of sticking to one’s principles in there somewhere.
Science labs were not the only hazardous activities we risked to pad our college applications. If the poetry club had spent a little more time reading Robert Frost and a little less time reading Sylvia Plath, maybe they wouldn’t have locked themselves in auto shop and gassed up those old carburetor-powered engines.
Nor were potential valedictorians only found in the classrooms. Some of our athletes scored as many points on the S.A.T. as on the field, rocks for jocks notwithstanding. All-State Point Guard Terrence Leblanc kept a straight A average until he went for a layup, tripped on a discarded popcorn bucket, and impaled himself on a dislodged floorboard.
The wrestlers probably had the highest average GPA of all the sports teams. They could have gone to state this year if they hadn’t slept through the mandatory anti-drug education in health class. They’re living—well, not living—proof that steroids kill, especially if your supplier is cutting them with cleaning fluid.
And let me not forget my fellow feminists on the cheerleading squad. I hear their parents have hired Mitchell Lewitt. (You know him. He’s the lawyer with the late night infomercials for 1-800-SUE-THEM.) I hope he takes the manufacturer of the defective trampolines for every penny those girls were worth.
Even after all these unfortunate incidents, I still wasn’t close to head of the class. But then came the senior trip to Paris during spring break. Such a shame the TSA was off their game that day.
That’s why I’m so surprised to be standing here before you tonight. I spent more time in detention than in the classroom, more time writing poetry for my own amusement than doing homework. If there were justice in this world, one of our poor departed comrades would be here tonight instead of me.
But here I am, the last one standing. Perhaps we should pause for a moment and think about that.
The race doesn’t always go to the quick or the bright. Sometimes it goes to the girl with the stamina to outlast her competition, the intestinal fortitude to survive the seven separate strains of botulism the CDC identified in the cafeteria’s mystery meat, and the moral flexibility to not be overly bothered by the harsh realities of high school. Perhaps the smartest student isn’t the one who gets the highest grades or the one who’s the most popular. Maybe it’s the one who survives while her classmates are dropping all around her.
Elliotte is originally from New Orleans to which he returns periodically in search of a decent bowl of gumbo. However, he currently resides in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn with his wife Beth and dog Thor. His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies including The Time It Happened, Abbreviated Epics, and Master Minds. He has also written over twenty non-fiction books for various publishers, most recently The JavaMail API and Java Network Programming, 4th edition, both from O’Reilly.