The night before the wrestling tournament, Dec. 18, I told a teammate how much I was looking forward to winning my first first-place trophy in the next two days. The year had started out great. I was undefeated -- four wins, all by pins. I also shared with him my dream of winning the state wrestling title.

Little did I know that within 24 hours that dream would be shattered. . . .

The first match of the evening went great. Going into the second match, however, something wasn't right. . . . It started out okay. I took him down. Then he reversed me, and I attempted to escape. But the move failed. Before I knew it, I hit the mat. . . .

My dad, seeing something was wrong, ran out to me. I said to him, "Dad, I'm paralyzed, I'm never going to walk again.

He replied, "No, Jon, you're fine."

"Dad, you don't understand. I've broken my neck." . . .

In the next two weeks, while I was in traction with two screws in my head, with 15 pounds attached, pulling straight back, and in a bed that rocked back and forth 24 hours a day, I had lots of time to think.

I realized we need to look at people for who they are, not who their bodies say they are. . . . When people would look solely at my body and say, "I'm sorry," like my life was over, it hurt. Yes, physically, my life was over. But inside I was doing great. I was realizing the necessities of life. And isn't that what's really important? . . .

When I hit the mat, it was scary. . . . I was literally trapped between life and death. The very first thing I told my dad was, "I'm fading away, I'm fading away." And I wanted to die. But when I totalled up the pain it would cause all of you, my friends and family, it outweighed the suffering I would have to go through. So I had to live, because of my love for you.

Let's stop concentrating on ourselves. Let's put others first. . . .

-- Jon Young

Walt Whitman High School

We can all show ourselves that we are among the best by meeting the test of life. Anything worth having is worth working for. Let us not be among the dependent who are satisfied with just getting by. We are going forward at a time when technology is expanding and opportunities abound. We can take the initiative and grow, or turn our heads and stagnate in the parks. We must get up and get out to see what's waiting for us. . . .

-- Allison C. Jolly

Banneker Academic High School

When I think of high school, I think of words like "onomatopoeia" and "Gilgamesh" and "centripetal," but that's just because I'm kind of strange. What I'm getting at is teachers, the people who make some of the weirdest things stick in your brain for no reason you can figure.

Now, everyone I've ever met has been a teacher in some form or another, but those individuals who have devoted their careers or just a big chunk of time to one of the most thankless jobs around deserve special mention.

You see, teachers (as they know very well) have to act in many capacities. They have to know how to translate fact and theory into words that the students can relate to and assimilate in their minds. The teacher must be a referee, a zoo keeper and a disciplinarian. . . .

Teachers at Georgetown Day School have the pleasure of experiencing first-hand what may be the most feared animal on the planet: the teen-ager trying to be rebellious but falling short because of middle-class mores. . . .

-- Marshall Robinson

Georgetown Day High School

We must speak out against drug abuse and teen-age pregnancy and tell our younger siblings that we need their strong minds and their strong bodies for our future struggles as strong citizens. There is a better way. We must tell them that self-esteem and self-respect will pave the way to greater human dignity.

While reflecting on human dignity, let us not forget the woes of those beyond the boundaries of this nation of democracy. There are many who are still under the rule of oppression and tyranny. For an oppressed society, we need only to look at the role of apartheid in South Africa to understand the impact of hatred upon a race of people. To work to seek freedom for all mankind is our challenge. . . .

-- Dawana Branch

Ballou High School

The dictionary defines "commencement" as a beginning; a start. I define it as one of the scariest moments in a person's life.

-- Ronnie Thaxton

Spingarn High School