Reggie Ross and I had a wonderful time photographing Carroll and Montgomery Counties' 13 kindergarten classes from Carroll Academy, Marshall Elementary, Montgomery County Elementary, Winona Christian, and Winona Elementary and collecting information about the children's future aspirations and dreams.
Watching all of those little ones bubble with excitement for their upcoming graduation pulled some of my earliest memories from deep in my mind.
I attended kindergarten at Sacred Heart School in Walls, a kindergarten through eighth grade Catholic school sitting in the middle of a large cotton field in the north Mississippi delta. All of my cousins and I attended the small school, and my Aunt Jean taught all of us second grade.
Even before I was a student at Sacred Heart, the school was like a second home for me. With my older sisters both students at the school, I had accompanied my mother on their many field trips, worked the water table at the annual St. Jude walk held every year, and assisted in the concession stand while my sisters played basketball on Sundays.
So the day my mother walked me to the front door of Ms. Beverly's classroom, I never shed a tear. I waltzed right in and selected my cubby for my new book bag and Strawberry Shortcake lunch box.
I loved kindergarten. I loved doing vocabulary pages and coloring the pictures that went along with every word. I loved perfecting my reading skills and learning to spell. I loved Ms. Beverly, like all my classmates, and the way she nurtured us and cheered for our successes.
I always prided myself on good behavior, for fear of my parents, but my perfect conduct was marred by one episode that still makes me cringe.
On the playground, one of my classmates was teasing my best friend, Scooter, and in her defense, I hauled off and smacked him in the face. The good news was he stopped his teasing for good, but I ended up with three checkmarks on the chalkboard - the kindergarten equivalent of capital punishment. Ms. Beverly called my parents that night to report me. So I was humiliated in front of the entire class, and I was punished again at home.
The lesson was learned, and my conduct chart remained perfect until an unfortunate event in fourth grade, but that is another story.
I can still remember my kindergarten graduation in the spring of 1981. Wearing a white dress with a stiff crinoline and high lace collar, I sat with my class across from the eighth grade graduates in the school's gymnasium. One by one, we were called to collect our certificates from Sister Virginia, the school's principal.
I felt so mature holding that certificate. I was no longer one of the school's babies; I was heading into the first grade. I would no longer be forced to take a nap each day, and like my older sisters, my book bag would be filled with homework at the end of the day.
After the ceremony, Jackie Perkins, practically my second mother, presented me with a small gold cross necklace. The moment she hooked the chain around my neck remains one of my fondest memories from childhood. Miss Jackie made my kindergarten graduation extra special with her gift. It made me realize what a milestone the experience was.
When I moved to Carrollton in 2009, my father brought me the dollhouse I received for my ninth Christmas, as he thought I would enjoy restoring it to its original grandeur. He had it specially made all those years ago in the image of my childhood home, and for years, it collected dust in my parents' attic.
After unloading it, I noticed the rooms were filled with small boxes of miniature furniture.
In one of those boxes, I found a folded paper, yellowed with age, at the bottom of the box. It was that my certificate from my kindergarten graduation stating that Mandy Sexton had successfully completed kindergarten. I have no idea how it got in that box, but I now have it in my scrapbook.
Kindergarten sets the foundation for your future education. It is the threshold between infancy and childhood, and it is the first taste of independence from under our parents' tightly grasping hand.
Congratulations to this year's kindergarteners. I hope all of your dreams come true.