I graduated from high school in 1965. I don’t reckon that makes me the oldest graduate in America. But it feels that way some days! One would think my hopes, aspirations and dreams are mostly behind me. But I sure don’t see it that way……
Now, when I was lining up beside Charlotte Melton to march into the auditorium “back yonder” I wasn’t thinking so much about the future as you might suspect. Mostly I was trying to get to my seat without that awkward flat hat sliding off my head. And I kept glancing back over my shoulder; Buddy Wiggleton, Bobby Brewer or anyone of a half dozen others wasn’t going to let this night go by unscathed.
The teachers had been building up to this graduation like they had a dog in the hunt. They had repeatedly praised us, encouraged us and generally let us know what a momentous and historic milestone it was in each of our lives. I was so busy finishing up the baseball season and making sure I got my “cap and gown” money turned in that I hardly had time to notice.
We had absolutely no yardstick to measure what was happening in our lives.
None of us had ever graduated form anything. Miss Katy gave us some ice cream the last day of kindergarten but she didn’t pass out diplomas. There was no commencement ceremony when we left the sixth grade. It was just another step up the ladder. We were mostly worried about the nasty rumor Brewer was spreading that “recess” was not a part of the seventh grade curriculum.
High school was a series of ups and downs, heartache and euphoria, endless doubts and tremendous triumphs. We experienced each of these emotions daily, if not hourly! I fell seriously in love in high school. I gave the dumbest answer to that “It was the best of times-it was the worst of times” question ever recorded in Miss Clarks’ English class. I scored two touchdowns in the Milan game. I missed a layup against Buchanan that Coach Camp is still shaking mad over. I had almost nothing to do with the “food strike” and the Bunsen burner explosion was over at Don Melton’s table. We memorized that near’ bout unspeakable prologue to “Canterbury Tales”. We fought in P.E. and leaned on each other through the Great Depression and World War II.
Unequivocally, we felt we had earned our right to march down those aisles.
Billy Thompson delivered the Valedictorian speech with his usual insight and purposefulness. He and I had gone to church together all of our lives. His father delivered our mail. I was proud of him, and for him. ’Course, I couldn’t help but think, me or Buddy could have been Valedictorian…….if our grades hadn’t a’gotten in the way.
The BB hit me behind the left ear as our principal was introducing Mr. W. O. Warren. I didn’t have to turn around. Brewer was seated off to my left about three rows back. At least it wasn’t a spit ball. We had used all of them up in Latin class our sophomore year! Another missile, from the southeast, bounced off my neck. Where was Bobby King sitting? No one doubted the gravity and importance of the ceremony. But we were doing what we had been doing for years. Making the most of the moment. Being ourselves. Sharing. Expanding. Creating. Taking turns…… It is exactly what they had been teaching us since the first grade.
Pam hugged me twice while we were lining up. Vicki, LaRenda and Diana had all straightened my tie. Marlin Hicks shook my hand. Charlotte stepped up beside me and said, “Ready?” I’m not sure if any of us were.
But the point was: we certainly understood the importance of the evening. We hadn’t gotten this far in school by being stupid. Change was, is and would always be inevitable. We were dispersing. Breaking up. Leaping out into the world. Understanding and being ready are two different things! This group had lined up against the wall for spelling bees in the first grade. We learned about Dick and Jane in the Blue Bird reading class. We had memorized “Little Boy Blue” together. We floundered through junior high as a group. We conquered high school side by side.
“Best friends” would be an understatement! Had we truly realized some in the group would never see each other again, we would have spent the evening hugging rather than sitting quietly while our future was being touted. I would have been thanking classmates for the help, support and “touch” each had, and would always have, on my life. We would have been organizing our first reunion before we even disbanded.
Mr. Warren repeatedly reminded us of the days ahead; the endless prospects and the opportunities that abounded on all sides. We knew he was right. But we hadn’t gone anywhere yet! I reckon the truth doesn’t hit you until Jane, Wanda, Skip, Hollis and Ruth Ann aren’t there to make fun of your haircut.
I certainly didn’t “grasp it” at eighteen. I couldn’t get my forward gear in motion. Life simply moved me along. At sixty-seven, the light bulb is finally coming on! I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds…….