Graduation day. The day I had been working towards for 21 arduous weeks.
The evening before graduation was “family night,” an evening which we got to display our skills for our loved ones. The whole proceeding felt like a dream. My teammates and I came into the academy later than usual that day to begin the setup for the evening’s evolutions. We were allowed to wear our “official” blue shirts! I was assigned to the “vehicle extrication” demo. We made a couple of cuts ahead of time so we could keep the demo time low as there were many to get to. As we cleaned up our tools in preparation for the arrival of the crowds I began to feel excited and like it was really almost time to go.
As the families and friends began to trickle in, the sun started to set, bathing the entire drill ground in a reddish glow. It was beautiful and only added to the moment. As darkness settled, we marched in as a class, singing a “jodie”. We demonstrated our abilities to our families to show what we had been doing while we were away from them for so long. For me, it was a very proud moment. God had carried me all the way to the finish line!
At the end of the evening, we went up onto the tower and they announced each person and we stepped up to the railing and announced “FIREFIGHTER YourNameHere” and rang the giant bell. It was very final and each ring of the bell vibrated my chest with pride. So much so that I thought it would burst!
The next morning I dressed in my blue shirt and admired my cleaned, pressed, uniform that was adorned with official patches. In excitement we headed to the venue of the ceremony. As we arrived, we all milled around restlessly, ready for the ceremony to begin. We did a practice walk-through and continued to wait.
As the graduation began, we were lead in by the pipe and drum band. At the sound of the bagpipes I immediately began to get choked up. I could not believe the day was finally here. We progressed through the auditorium past what seemed like a thousand eyes and lenses, brimming with tears and pride. They all matched my own. As I neared the front of the hall, I saw my beautiful wife, kids, friends, and my parents. We had made it.
As we took the stage, we pledged allegiance to the flag and heard the national anthem sung. My head was spinning with the raw emotion. We heard speeches from the brilliant Training Chief, the Chief of the department, our super boot, and our keynote speaker. All the while, it was mostly a blur to me as I kept trying not to look at my wife or my mother, lest I get as choked up as they were.
We were issued our badges and swore our oaths. I meant every word of it. With each word, I felt the weight of the past 21 weeks lifting off of me. God had carried me across the finish line!!
As my wife pinned that badge to my chest, the tears came. I choked them back but the emotion welling up in me was too much. We held each other for so long, assuring each other that by the grace of the Almighty, it was over and life was now going to be very different.
Looking back on the days leading up to (and including) graduation, it was a huge blur. A warm glow of triumph that lasted for quite a few days. The battle was over. I had made it. God had carried me every day. Just like He promised He would!