Alas, not that many spouses were in attendance. Mostly siblings and friends. Of course, teachers, administrators, and the director all came as well. They handed out the diplomas. Each graduating student gave a little speech as a farewell and thank you. Many began to cry before they could finish. No one was able to conceal their feelings. As I would later come to understand, with all their mastery of false facades and manipulation, addicts are unable to deal with emotions, especially positive ones that they`re so unfamiliar with.
Mrs. Terri handed me my diploma. She was the assistant director, the same one who asked me a year earlier “why are you going into this field?” and warned me strictly about drug use on the premises. She handled attendance and disciplinary action at the Institute, and dealt with the paperwork. The students liked her and treated her with respect. They felt that Terri understood them, and forgave her strict approach, as they themselves knew that they needed this discipline and could not be left to their own devices. During the ceremony, students gave her a lot of flowers.
I also thanked teachers and students in my farewell speech.
Barbara was one of the last students after me to take the microphone. She was a short, stout Puerto Rican woman. She didn’t stand out during class, didn’t say much, and stayed in the shadows. She hadn’t been a drug user, but because she had been in prison the students considered her one of their own. Barbara particularly did not like to share and didn’t make public declarations of dramatic stories from her life. The group did not have that much interest in her.
When she took the microphone, many faces expressed “What a bore!” Now they would have to listen to this boring Barbara, who likely would not sob or sing or run out of the auditorium in tears. It would be better if she refused to talk at all.
Barbara was quiet for a moment, looking through the window. Then she began to speak quietly, pacing thoughtfully throughout the auditorium.
“My husband was a drug dealer. He sold a lot of drugs, and I helped him. My husband was shot and I picked up his business.” As she spoke, Barbara continued to walk slowly from one side of the auditorium to another, staring ahead as if she did not see the flowers or the shiny balloons.