Thursday evening was the High School graduation, and Mr. Ken Thomas had been invited as their graduation speaker.
"Collin, come on, 'lil bro', you need to get upstairs and get ready to go the graduation," stated Big Bro. Mr. Ken, as the two sat their in his Study.
"Why, why do I have to go, just because you're going to be their graduation speaker? I've heard you speak before. I'll just wait until I graduate and I'll hear you, then," teased Collin.
Mr. Ken, already dressed for the occasion, went over to the teen and sat down beside him and said, "It's because, I never spoke before these kinds of people, and I need my 'Lil' Bro there to support me. So, what do you say? Won't you go and get dressed and come with me. We'll go out for a nice dinner, afterward."
"I can eat Momma Maria's wonderful cooking, here, tonight, so I won't have to get all dressed up to go with you," teased back Collin.
This sort of banter went back and forth for about five minutes, when Mr. Ken had to tell the teen that there was a surprise that was going to happen during the graduation. And he wanted his Little Brother to be there to see it first-hand.
"Why didn't you say so in the first place? Now, I've lost valuable 'getting ready time' that I could have used to polish my shoes or brushed my teeth," teased Collin. As he was leaving the Study, Mr. Ken swatted as his backside and laughed along with the teenager.
"Kids!" Mr. Ken said to himself as Collin disappeared around the corner.
Graduation was scheduled to begin at 7 o'clock, that evening, and Mr. Thomas was asked to be there fifteen to twenty minutes early, so they could test the microphones and talk about the schedule of events for the ceremony.
As his Big Bro did a walk through, what he would do for the graduation ceremony, Collin sat in the very front row of the VIP section, with two empty seats right next to him.
"Dang, I wonder who I'm gonna have to sit next to, tonight? I sure hope they don't ask me a lot of questions about Bro or about me, for that matter," thought Collin as he sat there looking around the huge auditorium, and searching for friendly faces. Then, as quickly as he looked in a different direction, he felt someone sit down in the empty seats.
He slowly turned around to see who it was and thought to himself, "They better not be old fogies, or I'm outta here!" Just as his mind finished his thought, he also turned to face his seat mates.
"Yooo … why didn't you tell me you'd be here, tonight, Ry?" asked Collin, as he saw his Best Friend, and 'mom', sit down next to him.
"I didn't know I was coming until an hour ago, when mom told me to get ready as we were coming to the graduation to give Mr. Ken some moral support as he talked to the graduation class," replied Ryan.
"Good Evening, to you, too, Collin," teased Mary Taylor, as she looked at the teenager.
"Oh, ah … sorry, 'mom', I … I was totally surprised to see you both here tonight. Bro didn't tell me that you guys would be here," explained Collin.
"I am sure your Big Brother, as you two love to call him, doesn't tell you everything he's going to do, so why should he tell you I'd be here. And besides, he needs some friendly support out here in the audience, so just sit back and applaud at the right times," said Mary, a little colder than she had wanted. She knew what the surprise for tonight was, and didn't want to have to answer too many questions by those two 'separated at birth' twin boys she thought to herself, as she sat waiting for the graduation to begin.
This commencement was like many graduation ceremonies that were being held, or would be held, that June. The graduates had their big entrance and song. The local politicians and the school administrators had to say their final words to the graduates. Then, finally, there was the guest speaker, Mr. Ken Thomas.
Although Mr. Thomas had a well intentioned but short eight minute speech, that talked about going forward and doing what you want to do with your life, and making a name for yourself, it was actually during the passing out of the diplomas that everyone, who was there that evening, will remember that night.
It was when all the diplomas had been handed out and all the seniors were waiting for that moment when they got to throw their caps into the air that the high school principle, Mr. Mark Stanley, made an announcement that there was one more diploma that needed to be handed out, to one more deserving high school senior.
A low murmur rose through the auditorium, as everyone wanted the graduation exercise to be over. The seniors had no idea who else could be receiving their diploma as William Shappell and Raleigh Mitchell were still in jail, awaiting their bail hearing. Only a few people inside that huge space, right then and there, knew the secret and it was going to be revealed to everyone, very soon.
"Before I announce the last senior to receive their diploma, tonight, I would like to ask Mr. Thomas, to once again, to address you. Mr. Thomas, if you would," said Mr. Mark Stanley, the high school principle.
To light applause, Ken Thomas took the stage and said, "Thank you, Mr. Stanley." He waited for the crowd to settle down before speaking.
"Tonight … is the night that all of us old folks looked forward to when we graduated from our high schools. We, too, did the pomp and circumstance and had the long winded speeches and couldn't wait until we ALL had our diplomas so we could celebrate with the throwing of our caps into the air, as our last 'act of disobedience'," stated Mr. Ken, as the crowd warmed up and laughed at his last remark.
"But … as Mr. Stanley stated … we still have one more graduating senior who still needs to receive their diploma tonight. This individual worked very hard to get to this point in their life … that of receiving their high school diploma. Their desire was to be the first person in their family to go on to college. But along the way, they made a mistake … and that mistake folded back onto them, causing them to potentially lose their opportunity … to ever cross this stage tonight and go forward with their future plans.
"This person, Mr. Stanley will soon introduce, wasn't an A student, nor were they and A B student … but they held their own with the rest of their classmates. The mistake they made almost caused them to be disabled for life … as that 'payback' for their mistake almost took their life from them … before they even had the chance to do what they wanted to do with their life, or even go out … and 'make a name for themselves. I know you will all remember who this person is, as they come across the stage and receive their well deserved diploma. Mr. Stanley … the stage is yours."
"Thank you, Mr. Thomas … Now … will our final high school graduate Mister … Rodney Costa … please come across this stage, and receive your high school diploma.
With the announcement of Rodney Costa's name, the high school seniors went ballistic and jumped up and gave the slowly moving Rodney Costa a thunderous applause. The whole audience then joined in as Rodney and his mom, who was supporting him, walked to receive his diploma, from John Henry Ostrowski, the newly elected School Board President. With diploma in hand, Rodney held it up real high for the rest of his classmate to see, which got him another thunderous round of applause.
Then, as he lowered his diploma, someone shouted out "Speech!" Then, another person shouted it out; then another, and another, and before long it was as if the entire crowd wanted to hear from the obviously injured, Rodney Costa.
"You knew, didn't you, 'mom'?" asked Collin, as he applauded as fast and as hard as he could. "That's why Bro wanted us here, tonight, wasn't it? He told me there would be a BIG surprise but he wouldn't tell me what it was. Now, we all know the surprise was Rodney, getting his high school diploma."
Rodney and his mom were both teary eyed as they stood there on the stage. Rodney heard the people yelling "Speech," but he knew he couldn't say anything from up there. Quietly, Mr. Thomas came over to him as the crowd was still applauding and said something to the teenager. The lad looked at the man and then nodded in agreement. Then, Mr. Thomas held up his arms, as he asked the audience for quiet.
"Mister Costa … doesn't have a speech for you, per se … but … I convinced him to say a few words about what you see here … as to why he looks this way, tonight. Rodney … the stage is yours," said Ken Thomas
The auditorium became church-like quiet. Everyone wanted to hear what the teen had to say and they didn't want any noise to drown out what he had to say. Then, Rodney tentatively stepped forward and spoke.
"Thank you, for all that applause … but, when you hear my story … you may ALL be wanting to take it back. … You see, a while ago, I made a big … NO … I made a HUGE mistake. I thought, after many years, I had finally made some friends and they kept telling me stuff that I sort of believed. I didn't know any better, but I SHOULD HAVE … well, after a while, they talked me into … into attacking another student."
A low gasp was immediately heard throughout the audience.
"For some reason, I never really had any close friends until then, and these guys … they convinced me that they were genuine and that to be a part of them, I had to prove myself. I agreed to do what I did, and for what I did I was adjudged and given probation, and I had to do community service, and I had to attend some counseling and anger management.
"The thing is … the person I hit … well, he spoke to the judge that day of my hearing and, instead of me having to go away to jail, for up to five years, I … I was allowed to continue going to school, as long as I stayed away from those boys, who tricked me. … And then, a few weeks later, while I was walking home, I was the one attacked. I was left for dead where I lay and in a coma. My attackers broke some of my ribs, my eye socket along with both arms and one leg.
"Then, that student, that had I attacked … well … when he heard about my being attacked, he came to visit me, as soon as he found out. You see that person who came to see me was Collin, (a gasp was head throughout the audience)… yes, it was Collin Wilkinson … the teen who was kidnapped last year and who someone twice … tried to have him killed. After he came to visit me, it was Collin, and his school friends, and others who began money campaigns for me and other bullied students around the state. … If you don't remember who they collected for ... it was me …I am THAT Rodney … of the "Rally 4 Rodney" campaign. … Collin … could you … would you Please come up here with me?"
The crowd began a polite applause but Collin was reluctant to go up on the stage. It took some cajoling from Ryan, and his 'mom', before the teen began his slow walk up the stairs, to join Rodney.
As Collin was coming onto the stage, Rodney politely asked, "Mr. Ken … could you please come over here, too?"
The audience became very quiet then as they had no idea what Mr. Ken and the younger teenager, Collin, had to do with that graduating senior.
"The end to this, I guess of my story, is that … if it weren't for these two wonderful people, I would not be on this stage, tonight. First of all, for Collin for believing in me, and secondly, for Mr. Ken who … when he found out that I wanted to graduate from high school, convinced my mom to allow me to have a tutor, which Mr. Ken agreed to pay for.
"He explained to my mom that it was MY DREAM to graduate and then go on to college and take her away from the harsh treatment of my father. I owe these two people so much I don't know how I will ever begin to repay them.
"It was these two men, along with Ryan Taylor, who visited me often and not only encouraged me to study hard, but to also work hard on my physical therapy so that I could, one day, walk and use my arms once again. It is THEY who are the hero's here tonight and it is they who deserve YOUR applause."
The crowd finally understood the significance of that last person's graduation and loudly applauded for not only that 'last' graduating senior, but also for the man and teen who had made a huge difference in that senior's life.