My high school was tiny—the 1982 Dawn (our yearbook) notes there were fifty-six in my graduating class. The towns of Walton and Verona, in the very southern tip of Boone County, had resisted when four other schools consolidated in the mid 50s. There are still a number of independent school districts in northern Kentucky, but few are in as rural a setting as W-V is. Or, maybe I should use the past tense: Walton’s a considerably bigger place than it was 35-40 years ago—it has Kroger, Kohl’s, and even McDonalds and Taco Bell now—and the size of high school graduating classes have more than doubled since my day.
Those who were to receive their diplomas in 82 courtesy of the Walton-Verona Board of Education gathered in the gym in the early evening on Tuesday, June 1. The males wore blue gowns, the females white (the two sexes marched in and sat separately). It was a combined baccalaureate/graduation service; a minister from the Baptist church in Verona gave the baccalaureate message, and a 65 grad, the older sister of one of my classmates and a faculty member at UK, was the graduation speaker. Not to brag or anything, but the principal described us that night as the “class that comes closest to that ideal of the perfect class as any class in recent memory.” Seriously, it was a pretty good group of folks—I was fortunate in that regard.
The salutatorian and valedictorian were both given the opportunity to address their classmates as part of the service, so I had to write a speech. It fit on fifteen 3” by 5” index cards, typed, though I made plenty of edits afterward. My intro does mention a couple of songs as possible bases for the body of the speech. Our class song was Seger’s “The Famous Final Scene,” but the valedictorian in 80 had used it in her address. I also considered riffing on “The Long and Winding Road,” but rejected it as too sad for the occasion. I settled on passing along “six pieces of wisdom I’ve learned through the years.” How sage was I at eighteen? How banal?
1. “Take advantage of all the facilities offered you.” ‘Facilities offered’ is a terrible construction. It looks like I meant to use one’s talents and capacities fully to reach one’s goals.
2. “Don’t be afraid to fail, but don’t let failure make you afraid to try again.” Should be ‘and’ and not ‘but,’ but this is better. I sneak a Barry Manilow song title in here.
3. “Have a positive attitude.” There’s a perhaps ill-considered reference to Columbus (the explorer, not the city) in this segment. For the second time, I urge my classmates to dream big.
4. “Don’t be afraid of change.” This one includes references to experiences a classmate and I had both recently had getting reconnected with people that we knew before we’d moved to Walton. It goes on to acknowledge that high school friendships often fade with time. That turned out to be largely true for me, but I can tell from Facebook that many folks who didn’t move away are still pretty tight.
5. “While working toward your goals, never lose sight of what it means to be human.” I now wish I’d added “never lose sight of the fact that everyone is human.” This is the briefest section of the speech.
6. “Say ‘thank you’ to all of the people who do nice things for us.” I then specifically thank family, my guidance counselor, a favorite teacher, and my fellow students.
Outside of #1, it’s not a bad list—if I could add one item in the “use sunscreen” vein based on life since, it’d be “take care of your knees.” As to whether I’ve actually lived by what I said, my guess is not especially well. There’s still time…
Ben’s high school class was about 9.5 times the size of mine, with about three dozen valedictorians. At his graduation a couple of weeks ago, the class president was the student selected to give a speech. The acoustics in the arena where the ceremony was held weren’t terrific, so I didn’t catch everything he had to say. The one thing we all seem to remember, though, is a confession of sorts, something along the lines of, “We all cheated to get through our classes; I know I did.” Maybe some other part of it was slightly more inspirational? I can only hope so.
Absolutely my favorite song at that moment was Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny.” Number one on my personal chart, and at its peak of #4 on this show (how did it get stuck behind “I’ve Never Been to Me”?). It’s not in the least fashionable now, but Jennifer was one of my favorite girls’ names back then; I may have even thought it a leading contender should I ever have a daughter.
When I moved to Georgetown at the end of 93, I was assigned a phone number with an 867 prefix. Of course, the last four digits aren’t those from the song—I can’t imagine anyone got that combination—but if you guessed 5309 and we were playing a ten-color variant of Mastermind, I’d give you two white pegs for your efforts. (Yes, we’re one of those luddite families today with a landline, so I still have the number.)
After my ceremony, newly-minted graduates, their families, and friends spilled out into the lobby of the gym and the parking lots outside (fortunately, it was a nice evening). Hugs, pictures galore, and promises to remain in touch no doubt happened. I don’t have any special memories of the rest of the night. There’s a party plate amongst the artifacts collected in my box of high school graduation stuff (along with my tassel, cards received, etc.), so I imagine that means I simply returned home for cake with parents and sister, along with my mother’s parents and my father’s aunt.
There were about six guys who became pretty good friends of mine during my last three years of high school. I’ve kept in touch with just one of them fairly well. But next month, five of us are gathering in Nashville for a weekend together. We obviously aren’t the same people we were then, but I’m betting we’ll have a good time.