I met him on April 14th of last year. He was standing outside of the high school looking puzzled. Where was the auditorium, he wondered? Did I know? I walked him over to the main door as he made it clear to me that he was there to see an old friend get inducted into the EGHS Wall of Honor. This elderly gentlemen to my left said he spent most of his time in high school stealing potatoes from the cafeteria and flushing them down the toilets in the boys lavatory, knocking books from the library shelves and making it look like someone else had done it, and forcing teachers into early retirement. He asked me if I knew any kids like that here now? Was he kidding me? That describes most of my friends.
My new friend looked “old and gray and full of sleep” in the words of William Butler Yeats. He had graduated many years ago, spent time in the army, returned home, and started college. Then he moved to Florida and married a “doll” from the Sunshine State but still Little Rhody beckoned. He came home in the summers for a bit, kept in close contact with high school friends, and watched from afar as the town he grew up in grew up itself. As the years passed by, he learned that EG was a great small town that he missed. Rhode Island was a great place, too. “When you leave home and you meet people from here, you feel like you’re meeting a family member. You always know someone in common. It’s just that way. That doesn’t happen when you are from California or South Dakota.” His old high school chums were like family. “When my parents got sick, they would look in on them for me because I was far away. We were close and that closeness never left us.” His message was clear as a bell. For all you graduating seniors, you are going to miss us. This place that you spent so much time dreaming about leaving will ring nostalgic and poetic in your memories as early as next year.
You will miss the traffic on Avenger and the teachers who tormented you with tests and term paper revisions. You will miss your friends and the fields of your dreams. You’ll miss the stage, Main Street, and the beaches. We know you are eager to move on and we will be moving on, too. There will be new seniors, new captains, new star actresses, new singers, musicians, writers, athletes, and scholars who will eagerly fill your shoes. The show must go on and replacements are ready and waiting for you to cruise down Avenger Drive for the last time. Forget about your old parking space, your locker, your jersey number, and your lunch table. We are casting lots and dividing up the spoils as you leave. And while you move on to conquer those bigger and better things that await you, just remember they can’t and won’t replace these memories. Remember soccer games in crisp fall afternoons, smiling field hockey champions, mind-boggling science labs, off-off Broadway school plays, Academic Decathlons, snow days, flood days, jazz concerts, pep rallies, Mock Trials, White Outs, Friday Night games, Science Olympiads, talents shows, Dodgeball tournaments, International Idols, and proms.
Next year no one is going to know you like the kid sitting next to you in class this year. You’ve known that kid since second grade when he threw up on you at Johnny’s sleepover birthday party. You grew up playing Pokémon and trick-or-treating together. You had the same orthodontist and you remember when his dog died. These are the people who knew you when, the friends who had your back when your back was against the wall. Teammates, classmates, soulmates, and partners in crime for all these years. You had countless crazy good times together.
Remember it is here that you learned to drive by doing doughnuts in the parking lot even before you got a permit. It is here where you fell in love for the first time, got your heart broken for the first time, learned about human frailties, the power of forgiveness, and how to overcome your own weaknesses and disappointments. You learned about redemption here and these times meant more than we know or can comprehend in youth’s bright glow. Yes, it is time to part ways with the people and places of your youth. Time to put youthful things away. It is the big time now. You are going into a world of unknown and limitless possibilities and this two-bit, backwards, small town will soon be in your rearview mirror. You’ll miss it with a passion.