Throughout seven seasons of Gilmore Girls , Rory Gilmore grew from a young, optimistic small town girl into a woman ready to embark on a career all her own. Her journey was not without its trials, of course — breakups, boat stealing, dropping out of college, and an estrangement from Lorelai are just a few of the highlights. While the people who loved Rory wanted to see her as perfect, she was just as flawed as anyone else — but it was never her flaws that defined her, it was her pragmatism and willingness to put her best interests first. For that reason, the one Gilmore Girls episode that defines Rory is the Season 3 finale, "Those Are Strings, Pinocchio."
The episode is largely remembered as the one where Rory graduates high school, but it is so much more than Rory's admittedly amazing Valedictorian speech. It is an episode that reveals who Rory is at her core. Remember, the episode begins with Rory discovering her mother is sacrificing her dream of opening The Dragonfly Inn to pay for Yale after Rory's financial aid falls through. Rory was too young to do anything to help her mother pay for her high school education at Chilton, but a young Rory on the brink of graduation found a way to pay for school by presenting a plan to her grandparents.
Throughout the entire series, Rory was always a problem solver. While she often fell into situations that felt insurmountable — dropping out of college later in the series being one of them — Rory was also good at finding a way out of them once she had time to clear her head. When it came time to fund Yale, she made an agreement on her own terms with the grandparents, and it was the first big adult decision Rory ever made. Lorelai believed Rory was being manipulated by Emily and Richard, but the truth was Rory knew exactly what her choice meant for everyone involved.
Above all else, it was a choice not to lose the familial connection Rory, Lorelai, Emily, and Richard had worked so hard to restore. Rory is someone who grew up with only her mother ever truly being there for her, and as beautiful as their relationship was, Rory found additional security and love in Richard and Emily. She knew Lorelai did too, even if she would never admit it.
Rory's graduation speech delved even deeper into Rory's connection to Lorelai. Her mother shaped so much of who Rory was and who she became later. Literature and Lorelai were Rory's constants, and in this episode she eloquently pays homage to her two greatest influences. Granted both of these influences had their downfalls — Herman Melville would lead to Rory illegally taking to the sea, and the older Rory got, the more of Lorelai's trademark stubbornness she displayed. More than anything though, Rory was her mother's daughter and on the day of her graduation she displays the same sense of love and self sacrifice Lorelai always possessed.
There is one more moment that is absolutely critical in who Rory would be moving forward, and that is her goodbye scene with Jess. Rory's relationships were always complicated. She struggled with telling Dean that she loved him, she kept running away from and toward Jess for multiple seasons, and her relationship with Logan led Rory to get in touch with her adventurous side. No matter how many times Rory Gilmore cried over the men in her life or struggled to define her feelings for them, she always ultimately chose herself though — and in "Those Are Strings, Pinocchio," she does it for the very first time.
Rory is standing on the precipice of adulthood. She is about to embark on a brand new adventure as she heads off to college, but she still loves Jess. For some characters, that love would be enough to cause them to chase after the person they wanted to be with or to settle into a rut. Rory Gilmore simply tells Jess she thinks she might of loved him, but she has to let him go and she does.
This is something Rory does again in Season 5 when she doesn't pursue Dean when he realizes he no longer makes sense in her life, and something she does yet again when Logan proposes. No matter how many times Rory's life veered off the tracks, she never let romance stand between her and her future. She had a plan and vision for her life, and she pursued it doggedly. Perhaps years of watching of her mother build a life without the help of a man gave Rory a sense of security and belief in herself, or maybe Rory just understood instinctively what was worth giving up and holding onto in life.
The core of Rory can be found in this one episode more than any other. While it is so easy to remember the mistakes Rory made, she was never defined by them. She was defined by the way she understood what mattered most in life: family, friends, and her future. Rory can be summed up in one beautiful line from her graduation speech, "My mother never gave me any idea that I couldn't do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be."
Rory's belief in herself was not unwavering, but it was enduring. It remained a reservoir of strength she could draw from whenever she needed it the most, and it was on her graduation day that she truly showed the world what she was made of.
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