It was in August 2010 that I first wrote about this girl, back when she was Little Miss Fifth-Grader. She came home from her first day of school that year with a homework assignment for me about my memories as a child.
She was tall for her age and bright-eyed, easy with a smile and kindhearted. I especially liked watching her play softball that year, when she made the all-star team and we traveled to Clovis to hit and catch balls in the heavy heat of August.
She's always been a helpful kid.
For example, she's made her own school lunch for years after Mom refused to keep taking special orders and told her to do it herself.
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For someone who likes to tell stories, her exploits year by year have made for inspiring material. If you will indulge me, here is a brief walk down memory lane:
When she was 11, Little Miss Sixth-Grader helped pick out an athletic cup for her brother, who needed the equipment upgrade for Little League.
After they figured out which way was up, she was the one to give it a test, offering a few quick raps along with "Does this hurt?"
"Nope, nope, nope," he said. Mission accomplished.
In the summer of that year, the newly minted Little Miss Seventh-Grader took a bunch of animals to show at the Mid-State Fair, decked out in her white shirt and white jeans, per 4-H rules.
She tapped at her chicken to get it to walk across a table. She missed out on first place when her horse — in true horse fashion — pulled up short at a jump. And she won a blue ribbon when she discovered that her dog might be a flop at showmanship but was quite a good listener in the obedience category.
The next year, Little Miss Eighth-Grader sang in Opera San Luis Obispo's production of "Carmen" as a member of the Central Coast Children's Choir, reprising a role I actually performed myself some 30 years earlier.
She was a star in the school choir and a diligent student.
When her best friend needed her to act beyond her age in a difficult time, she was mature, patient and above all, loyal — ready to do whatever she could to help.
By February, she was heading out to high school orientation night, and four months later, she was leaving the comfort of middle school.
"These 13 years have gone by too fast, like a snowball rolling down a hill, gaining speed with each rotation," I wrote at the time.
The next year, I gave Little Miss Ninth-Grader a little space, what with her starting high school and all.
I only mentioned her in print once that year, when, after being awake for 36 hours straight following an overnight flight to Mexico, she put her head down on her suitcase while waiting for the rental car and promptly fell asleep.
When she woke up 15 minutes later, she had an impression of her bag and a surprised look on her face.
In her sophomore year, Little Miss 10th-Grader reached a teenage milestone when she got braces in November.
Upon that dubious occasion, I had one bit of advice: Smile
"Don't let the fact that your teeth look different affect your self-confidence or how you present yourself to the world," I wrote to her. "Don't stop taking selfies. Grin as wide as you ever have."
"She did, and we took a fresh photo to share on Facebook, showing off her new look with a somewhat bewildered cat pressed up against her cheek," I wrote. "Sweet as ever."
On her birthday card, I asked her how she got so big so fast.
It wasn't so long ago that she was skinning her knees sliding down a trail in sandals and pigtails. Or sitting in a softball dugout between innings, playing in the dirt with her best friend. Or falling asleep sucking her thumb on one side of my lap while her newborn brother snoozed on the other.
Midway through the year, she got her driver's license on the first try, after only minor angst.
At the end of the year, she fell and tore up her leg on a day when Mom, the resident medic, was working.
And so we come to this week, her last day as Little Miss 12th-Grader, following a busy and bittersweet few weeks filled with tearful choir concerts, drama performances and award ceremonies.
On Wednesday, it all reached a final crescendo. There she was, decked out in her gray and orange robe with her satin CSF sash, her Top 30 student medal and a pretty purple-and-white lei given to her friend's mother, who's on her last high school graduation and better versed than us.
Little Miss picked us out in the crowd right from the start, waving and grinning throughout the ceremony, which wrapped up in a tidy 65 minutes. (Bravo, Atascadero High School!)
After the tassels had been turned and the caps tossed, we rushed to meet Little Miss High School Graduate on the field. It was all I could do to keep from pushing people out of the way in an effort to be first to greet the girl — her blue eyes sparkling and her smile as big as ever.
Next year, she's headed to Cal Poly, where she plans to double-major in biology and music.
"The best undergraduate education for the price in California," I told her when she was weighing her choices.
When she was in eighth grade and pondering what quotation to pick for the yearbook, she settled on a line from "Alice in Wonderland": "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
I like that sentiment, because you can apply it to tasks both large and small, short and long. It cycles and repeats.
We have come to the end here. But the stop is only momentary. A new beginning awaits.
We are exceedingly proud of this girl — who she's been, who she's become, who she will be.
To her and all of the Class of 2018, congratulations.
Go do great things.