Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 31, 2014

A fond farewell to some dear friends and many magic memories

— — Graduation is loosely defined as a “ceremony connected with leaving” a school or college while commencement more directly relates to “a beginning.” Nearly everyone leaves school at one time or another but all keep moving to new beginnings. Last night our high school held its 141st annual commencement and few institutions in this area can match that.

There was a sea of green and white mixed with red at the big event, the first two for the school colors and the third for the tint of many eyes once the diplomas were handed out. Like those individuals who swear they shall never marry, the seniors who proclaim there will be no tears can almost always be counted upon to do exactly the opposite.

It seems that everyone understands this. When classmates who have spent more than a dozen years studying, laughing, playing ball, eating lunches, riding around, sharing lockers, and changing lives together say they will keep in touch a deep feeling inside tells them that for many, they know deep down it may well be the last time they will see each other.

By now the changing times are upon them all. They won’t be headed back to our school this fall. Some of them who had counted on beginning classes in Richmond may now be on the way to Blacksburg or Radford or Bluefield or not anywhere at all. Finances change. It is not always tuition. Free textbooks suddenly become only a memory. Those big old yellow county school buses never charged a fee but gas money can often be the determining factor when a car has to be driven as much as 40 or 50 miles per day just to get to class.

Others will not be concerned with highways just now because Uncle Sam will be welcoming them to basic training in a few days or weeks. Their clothes may not have designer labels but they will certainly have name patches and a patriotic motif. Whether it be Parris Island or Fort Benning or Lackland, there will be plenty to do with hard exercise, new haircuts and food on hand for all.

In the immediate future, beach wear may be uppermost in the minds of some. Sun and sand and surf is still a major attraction for quite a few of our kiddies who have been landlocked in the mountains all through this long, lonesome winter. After having to spray on some tanning lotion just to look presentable on graduation night, it will seem like pure heaven to pick up a real tan with the great ocean looming on the horizon.

Those vacations won’t last forever, though. Once the young adult returns, consideration must be given for tomorrow and next month and next year. Somehow taking orders from Mom and Dad is not going to be quite as easy as it was in the past. Having a curfew or needing to eat dinner with everyone else will be harder to accept for many once this night ends.

The age of registering to vote and picking out luggage, thinking about dorm furniture or finding an apartment to rent has suddenly arrived. It will not be so bad after the initial fright wears off.

The “safety net” of home has not yet been taken down. For several, that may not happen for a year or two while there may be a few with issues that will prevent them from ever being able to leave their parents or care-givers.

Within the next few wonderful days, there will be a rush to check the mail box to see just what Uncle Bill or Aunt Rose sent as a gesture of good will. Small slips of paper with signatures and numbers are always highly prized and cards bearing U.S. currency (the larger the denomination the better!) bring forth big smiles. Some seniors will even remember to send thank-you notes later this month and may not even need their parents to remind them.

It is still too soon for those of us who have been on the other side of the desk to understand all of this, either. Those key students we depended upon so much — the editors and team captains and club presidents — won’t be at our elbow next fall when the new year begins. We are going to have to find someone else to trust, to send on errands, to complete those important jobs. For the first few days, it will be hard not to say out loud  those special names we have often spoken for the past four years.

The Class of 2014 has made some wonderful memories and is set to carve an exciting new legacy. It is up to us to cheer them on, to encourage and support them as they start on this greatest of journeys. We wish them all the very best.

Let’s say goodbye like we said hello, in a friendly kind of way.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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