Countless gazes were directed at me as I stood on stage. It was all entirely foreign to me. Such a large audience in front of me, with their attention captivated by my words—it was the first time I experienced something like this.
“...I’d like to thank everyone who was always by my side ever since I began my journey here.”
I spoke with a quivering voice. Though, it wasn’t because of nervousness. Rather, it was because I was trying too hard to suppress these feelings.
"To my parents, who made me who I am, for all their unconditional love and support—I am immensely grateful.”
My eyes focused on the audience—the students, parents, and school staff, keenly listening to my words. Occasionally, I would glance below to peek at the paper on the podium.
“To the teachers who taught us invaluable things, who were patient enough to put up with our silly antics, and were there to support us—I am immensely grateful.”
It felt as if I was witnessing the end of a long journey. That’s why it was so difficult for me to hold back these intense, unexplainable emotions that filled me.
“To the friends I made who were there for me when I needed them the most. Even after all the times I rambled on about stupid things. I'm really sorry for having to put you all through that, yet you never left me—for that reason, I am immensely grateful.”
As more words continued to spill out, my feelings followed suit. Eventually, it became progressively harder to hide them.
My eyes were teary. My voice was faltering. However, I had to push through.
“Before I moved here to Yokohama, I had a good friend. No matter what happened, she would always be there for me. When I was at my lowest, she accepted me and picked me up. She would always be by my side, and I’d always be by hers. Even after I moved out, she was always there for me. I remember we would exchange letters every month for a year. Then we got phones, and we began calling each other regularly. The reason I’m standing here before you now—was because of her. Even a million thank yous wouldn’t be enough to convey how much she has done for me. That’s how much she impacted my life.”
I paused to contain my emotions. Although I knew it was wrong, I had to stop for a moment. If I didn’t, I might have actually broken down on stage right then and there.
I thought I mentally prepared myself.
Wiping off the tears with my arm, I cleared my throat and continued to speak.
“...Although the time I spent here might not be as much as the rest of the graduates. That doesn't make that time or the friendships I made any weaker. Every second, every moment—everything I've learned here is something not only I, but the entire graduating class will cherish and remember as we begin our advance—take the next step in life and start High School. I wish everyone good luck in their future endeavors—”
How can I describe it? Satisfaction.
Satisfaction, for once in my life, I felt satisfied with my achievements. For once in my life, I could confidently say that—I did it.
“Your Valedictorian—Takizawa, Taiyo.”
...and with that, the curtains closed in my speech.
With a bow, applause from the crowd followed. Then tears began to drop one by one. I kept my head lowered and let all the tears—all the emotions be released.
I wiped off the tears and exited the stage. All the while, the harmonious sounds of hands clapping together never stopped.
“Good job out there, Valedictorian-kun,” Fujiwara said, greeting me as I went down the stairs.
“You did well too, Salutatorian-san,” I replied the same way to try to tease her. She only looked away in response.
“You were crying, weren’t you?” She got closer to me, and we stared at each other straight in the eyes. I took a step back from instinct.
“N-no...” I denied. She gave me a warm smile, her cheeks slightly flushed.
“It’s pretty obvious. You don’t have to hide it.”
As I continued to peer into her eyes, I noticed something peculiar.
“Fujiwara, are you…?”
Before I could finish, however, she backed away and turned around.
“S-Shall we get going?” she stammered as she gave me a sidelong glance.
“Y-Yeah,” I nodded and followed behind her.
What I noticed wasn’t wrong.
Her eyes were tinged with slight redness. In a moment, I understood.
She was crying too.
We spent the rest of the day after the ceremony just roaming around the school grounds one last time.
“Anyway, Takizawa, I’ve got something to ask,” Fujiwara said.
“Yeah, what is it...?”
However, before she could reply, Fujiwara was approached by three girls. Each of them had a bouquet of flowers.
“Congratulations on graduating, senpai!” They all congratulated her at once. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit jealous. Though, I was never really that popular in the first place.
The girls began to whisper to each other.
Then, one of them—Mizuno-san, approached me with the same bouquet in hand.
“Takizawa-senpai, congratulations on graduating,” she said as she handed it out to me.
I accepted her gift with a courteous smile. She averted her eyes the moment we made eye contact.
“Is it... Is it okay if I borrow s-some of your time, senpai...?”she asked, stuttering over her words.
I immediately understood her reason. So I wanted to give her some closure, at the very least.
We were at the back of the school building. Only the two of us alone were present as Mizuno-san’s figure gleamed from the sun. She struggled to let out her words, frequently taking deep breaths to calm herself down.
“The truth is... Takizawa-san, I... All this time, I’ve liked you...!” Eventually, she was able to do it. I was proud of her. She was a kouhai I helped a lot, and the current Student Council President.
Though, getting a confession on graduation? I thought it wouldn’t happen.
“I am happy you feel that way for me, Mizuno-san. However, I’m sorry—I can’t.” This was the right choice to make, and she knew it as well.
Instead of feeling saddened over getting rejected, she heaved a long sigh.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to say it... I already knew I had no chance—so thank you.”
“Mizuno-san confessed? What happened?” Fujiwara asked.
“Yeah, I turned her down.”
As we exited the building, we were met with crimson orange rays. I looked up at the sky in awe.
“You must have gotten a bunch of confessions, right? Fujiwara?” I asked.
“Hah? Uh, I...
“In this month alone. I got 13 confessions...”
As I thought, Fujiwara was really popular.
“13? T-that’s quite a lot.”
“I’ve turned them all down, though.”
I feel bad for those guys, but I could guess her reasons.
“I mean, you’ll be focusing on your studies first, right?” I asked.
She was silent. A reply never came.
“Huh? Ah, yeah... sure...”
“Say, Takizawa, would you have rejected anyone who confessed to you?”
I didn’t understand why she was asking me that. However, there was only one way I could answer her.
It took her a few seconds before she spoke again.
“Is it because of your promise with her?”
Feeling a vibration inside my pocket, I took out my phone, a Nokia 3100. My parents gifted it to me last year for my birthday.
There was a message. It came from Mitsuki.
[Congratulations on graduating, Taiyo-kun!!]
I smiled and began to type out a response.
[Thanks a lot, you too, Mitsuki. Congrats on graduating, the both of us.]
“Aight. Taiyo, Fujiwara-chan, say cheese!”
Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice. Then, from the corner of my eyes—a flash.
“Ah jeez, you both weren’t paying attention at all...”
I looked away from my phone for a moment.
Standing a few meters away was Kazuya. With a DSLR in his hands.
“K-Kazuya, I already told you to stop taking random pictures of me.”
“It’s the last time we’ll see each other, and you won’t even let me take some? Harsh, not even for a remembrance, bud?”
I sighed, “Fine.”
He made a goofy grin. I could not help but return the same expression. After all, he was a good friend, though it was unfortunate that we were going to different high schools.
“Ooookay! Taiyo, move a little closer to Fujiwara-chan. Fujiwara-chan, you do the same as well.”
We followed his instructions. I felt my shoulders touch Fujiwara’s.
“That’s a bit too close... but it works, too. Now, hold up your flowers in one hand, then raise your graduation certificates in the air with the other. Aaaaand don’t forget to smile!”
I smiled then a flash came.
“Perfect, I’ll give it to you both later,” he said.
He approached me and placed a hand on my shoulder, then he whispered something to my ear, “Your dedication is great but don’t leave out Fujiwara...”
“You seriously don’t get it?” he sighed, “I don’t want to point it out to you. Find it out by yourself. If you need advice on stuff, call me, and we can hang out over some ramen or something.”
I had no idea what he meant. I only looked back at his figure as he slowly walked away.
Turning my head, I shifted my view to Fujiwara.
“Takizawa...? Is there something wrong?” she asked.
I only continued to stare at her.
“S-sorry about that...”
“It’s fine, everything is—everything is fine,” she clarified.
A cute smile formed in her gentle red lips.
“Wanna get some udon?” she asked.
“My treat,” she said.
“Wha?! You’re really so ungentlemanly.”
She pouted and made a sour face. Was she expecting me to turn down her offer?
“Why should I decline free food?”
Then, we both began to laugh. Out of all the people I’ve met here, I was particularly thankful to her. Fujiwara has always helped me from the first time we met up until this point.
The sounds of our laughter never ceased as the sunset continued.