I'm already uploading the last chapter of this story! I loved writing this story and I really hope you guys enjoyed it. I should have the epilogue up in a few days. I'm going to finish "We are Young" before I get started on my next story, but be sure to read that if you haven't so far! Please let me know what you think of this chapter! (And since I loved Rachel's version of "Here's To Us," I decided to have it be their graduation song!)

Chapter 12: Here's To Us

After Nationals everything seemed to happen at once. The Glee club was greeted back at school with applause, being told that it was so cool they'd won Nationals. No one got slushied. Most of the football players had even congratulated them. Rachel tried to not focus so much on the thought that was always in the back of her mind - that these were the last few weeks of high school and childhood. She'd be working at a performing arts day camp this summer, then in August, she'd be leaving for New York. She had a great class schedule put together and had begun meeting people through social networking sites. She liked the apartment that she, Finn and Kurt had selected. Right before she left for Nationals, Rachel was told that she was valedictorian, and therefore would be giving a speech at graduation. Mike was the salutatorian, so it was exciting for Glee that both the speeches would be delivered by New Directions members.

The underclass members of New Directions had given a very moving tribute to the seniors three days before graduation. For Rachel, she thought that was when it really hit her. She would not be returning to McKinley in August. She'd be moving into an apartment in New York. After Nationals last year, she'd said to Finn, "I'm going to New York and I'm never coming back." Now, it was hitting her that she may never come back. She was really done at McKinley, done in Lima. The only times she'd probably be coming back would be to visit her mom or for reunions. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, texting, e-mail and Skype (and whatever the next thing would be) she and her friends would keep in touch, but they wouldn't see each other anywhere near as regularly again. The last performance she'd EVER do with New Directions would be at graduation.

When Rachel woke up on graduation morning, Shelby and Beth were still asleep. With a quiet house, there was just room for more thinking. She thought about how she'd lost so much, but also gained so much. She wished more than anything that her dads would be here to celebrate. They would have been so proud of her today. Even though her life was getting better, she still had flashbacks to that night nearly every day.

When she'd begun high school, she was probably the biggest loser in the school. She had no friends and got slushied at least once a day. Every day she posted a video of herself singing on myspace and almost always got cruel comments on them. Even in Glee club, she was mistreated her freshman year.

Then sophomore year, when Mr. Schuester took over Glee club everything changed. The first few weeks of rehearsals had been pretty bad, but then Mr. Schuester recruited Finn. And that was when Rachel's life changed forever. He was the first real friend she'd ever had, unless you counted the girl from elementary school who Rachel played with until her friend's parents told her she couldn't play with a girl who didn't come from a "real family." She'd had her first fling with a guy sophomore year. True, it wasn't love with Puck. She hadn't been into it and neither had he, but that was still something. At Sectionals her sophomore year, she really did feel part of the team. She gave up the solo to Mercedes, but Mercedes gave it back to her, telling her she was the best singer. She comforted Finn about the situation with Puck and Quinn, and had a heart to heart with Quinn as well. She opened their performance - and they won! She regretted dating Jesse during the second half of her sophomore year, but she HAD met her mother, something she'd dreamed of her whole life, and Regionals had been an amazing experience, despite their losing. Finn had told her he loved her, they'd done a great duet together and their songs had been fun to do.

Junior year wasn't a bad year when she stopped and thought about it. Well, the first few months had been great because she was with Finn, but when the secret about Finn and Santana got out, it fell apart with Finn. But other than that - she'd grown close to Kurt, Blaine and Mercedes, written original songs that won them Regionals, and gone to New York for Nationals, where she'd sang on a Broadway stage, gone on a date in Central Park and Sardi's with Finn, and placed in the top 15. And the best part was reuniting with Finn.

And now senior year was over. She'd been dating Finn happily all year, played the lead in West Side Story, gotten close with most of the Glee club members, developed a real relationship with her mom and won Nationals. She was heading to the school of her dreams in the city of her dreams with her boyfriend and her best friend.

It was a good time to be Rachel Berry.

x

"Rachel, are you almost ready?" Shelby called.

It was almost time to leave for the graduation ceremony. Rachel took a look at the red cap and gown, with the gold valedictorian chord. She then left her room to join her mom and Beth.

"I'm so proud of you," Shelby said.

"Thanks, Mom," Rachel said.

Shelby got out her camera. "I need to take your picture. How about with your sister?"

Rachel smiled. "Okay."

Shelby got out the camera and took a photo of Rachel in her cap and gown, then one of Rachel and Beth. They then drove to Ohio Northern University, where the ceremony would be held. Rachel said goodbye to Shelby and Beth and then went inside to wait with the other graduates.

"VALEDICTORIAN!" Rachel turned to see that Mercedes, who was with Quinn, Santana, and Brittany, had called out to her.

"I'm actually graduating!" Brittany said proudly.

"I'm proud of you," Santana told Brittany. "I guess the sixth time was the charm on your OGTs."

"I'm going to miss you girls," Rachel sighed.

"I'll miss you too," Mercedes said.

The girls looked over to Tina, Sugar and Kelly coming over in the Nationals competition costume. "What will we do without you guys?" Tina asked.

"You guys will be great leaders," Rachel said.

"Thanks, Rachel," Kelly said.

"Where are the guys?" Rachel asked, realizing she hadn't seen her boyfriend yet.

"Oh, they're in the room next door," Quinn said.

"I'm going to sneak in to see Finn in his cap and gown," Rachel giggled. "I'll be right back."

Rachel went into the room next door, where the boys were standing around. Making her way through the room, Rachel found Finn, who was talking with Kurt, Blaine, Puck, Sam, Mike, Artie and Rory. She pulled on his robe, and he turned.

"Hey, baby!" Finn said.

Rachel stood on her tiptoes to give Finn a kiss. "You look so handsome."

Finn smiled. "Thanks, Rach. You look beautiful."

"I'm so proud of you, Finny," Rachel said. "You've come so far since we first started high school. You're graduating with honors, can you believe it?"

"You're who I have to thank for that," Finn said.

"I love you, Finn," Rachel said.

"I love you too," Finn said, giving Rachel a hug. "You'd better get back to the girls room before someone catches you."

Rachel giggled and went back to the girls room. A few minutes after she returned, the girls were told that it was time to line up. "Pomp and Circumstance" began to play on the organ and the girls entered from one side, while the boys entered from the other. Rachel led the girls in, as the valedictorian. Mike led the boys as the top ranked boy. Rachel looked for Finn in the line of boys. They were lined up alphabetically. She saw her mom sitting with Burt and Carole as they made their way to the seats for graduates. The underclass members of New Directions were waiting on the stage for the seniors to join them. The staff of McKinley were sitting in the row directly behind the graduates, and Rachel spotted Mr. Schue between Miss Pillsbury (who would be Mrs. Schuester 4th of July weekend) and Coach Beiste.

The seniors joined the underclass members of New Directions on the stage to wait to sing as Principal Figgins welcomed the audience. After the welcome and the pledge of alliegance, Mike gave the salutatorian speech. It was now time for Rachel's valedictorian speech. She took a deep breath, winked at Finn and stepped up to the podium.

"Good evening to the school board, adminstration, school faculty, family, friends, and most importantly, the Class of 2012. The last four years have changed me in ways I couldn't have imagined. I don't think I'd be as prepared for the future if I'd gone to school anywhere else. Despite what many like to think, McKinley High is a special place. It was here that I met the love of my life and won a National show choir championship. I changed over the past four years from a crazy girl who only talked about herself to a young woman who cares about others. The New Directions changed my life and I thank each and every one of you for being such an amazing friend..." She struggled through the rest of her speech and could feel tears coming to her eyes. She had to stop herself as she reached her last paragraph.

"So, Class of 2012, I leave you with this: enjoy tonight. Enjoy the rest of your lives. Even if you think that something isn't worth doing, do it anyway. Anything can change your life or someone else's life for the better. Do what you love and remember you can't make everyone happy, but you can make YOU happy. I wish you all nothing but success."

At the end of the speech it was time for the performance of the New Directions, which would be led by Rachel. It was an upbeat song about the future, so she told herself she wouldn't cry until the end.

Rachel: We could just go home right now
Or maybe we could stick around
For just one more drink, oh yeah
Get another bottle out
Let's shoot the breeze
Sit back down
For just one more drink, oh yeah
New Directions Girls: Here's to us
Here's to love
All the times
That we messed up
Here's to you
Fill the glass
Cause the last few days
Have gone too fast
So lets give em hell
Wish everybody well
Here's to us
Here's to us
Rachel: We stuck it out this far together
Put our dreams through the shredder
Let's toast cause things got better
And everything could change like that
And all these years go by so fast
But nothing lasts forever
New Directions: Here's to us
Here's to love
All the times
That we messed up
Here's to you
Fill the glass
Rachel: Cause the last few nights
Have gone too fast
Rachel with New Directions: If they give you hell
Tell em to forget themselves
Here's to us
Here's to us
Rachel: Here's to all that we kissed
And to all that we missed
To the biggest mistakes
That we just wouldn't trade
Rachel with New Directions: To us breaking up
Without us breaking down
To whatever's come our way
Rachel: Here's to us
Here's to us!
New Directions: Here's to us
Here's to love
All the times
That we messed up
Rachel with New Directions: Here's to you
Fill the glass
Rachel: Cause the last few days
Have gone too fast
Rachel with New Directions: So let's give em hell
Wish everybody well
Rachel: Well!
New Directions: Here's to us
Here's to love
Rachel with New Directions: All the times
That we messed up
Here's to you
Fill the glass
Cause the last few nights
Have gone too fast
If they give you hell
Tell em forget themselves
Rachel: Here's to us
New Directions: Here's to us
Rachel: Oh here's to us
New Directions: Here's to us
Rachel with New Directions: Here's to us
Here's to love
Here's to us
Rachel: Wish everybody well
Rachel with New Directions: Here's to us
Here's to love
Here's to us
Rachel: Here's to us

That was it. Their final performance. NOW Rachel was crying. And so was just about every other senior member. They took their places in the rows with the other graduating seniors and the underclassmen went to join the general audience. Finally, the diplomas were awarded and the group processed out of the hall.

Rachel found her mom and Beth right away and ran up to them. "MOM!" Rachel cried. "I did it!"

"Yes you did," Shelby said, hugging Rachel. "And I am so proud of you."

Rachel opened her diploma and showed it to her mom. "Valedictorian! I knew it would be you."

Rachel smiled. "Thanks, Mom."

Shelby handed another parent her camera. "Could you take a family photo of the three of us?"

"Of course!" the other parent said, taking a photo of Rachel, Shelby and Beth. Rachel smiled. She hadn't gotten a family photo in a while.

Rachel, Shelby and Beth walked around, looking for more members of New Directions. Rachel passed Brittany's mom taking a photo of Brittany, Santana, Quinn and Mercedes. Mercedes called out, "RACHEL! Come over here! We need a picture of all five of the New Directions girls graduates!"

Rachel went to join the girls and got in the picture. She congratulated them, not believing how close they were. These girls hated her at the beginning of her high school career!

Finally, Rachel found Finn, who was with Kurt, Burt and Carole. Finn just gave Rachel a big smile when he saw her and they embraced each other tightly. Nothing needed to be said.

"We need a Finchel picture," Finn told Rachel. He put his arm around Rachel so their moms could take a picture of them together.

"I love you so much," Finn whispered to Rachel.

"I love you too," Rachel said.

x

Rachel had her graduation party that weekend. She had a pretty small group, just the glee kids and their families, Mr. Schue and Miss Pillsbury, and some of Shelby's friends. The Glee kids took to the living room to watch DVDs of some of their performances from over the years, listen to music, look at the scrapbook Rachel had made, hang out and talk. And of course eat. This was a group that, though they wouldn't be seeing each other every day anymore, she'd stay close to and connected to. The whole group was like one big family. And it always would be.

Epilogue preview: Finn and Rachel in New York!