Two weeks ago, I put the finishing touches on our graduation special section, and I covered three commencement ceremonies. Graduations are great times for seniors and their families, and I congratulate all of the seniors at the schools back home in Montgomery County as they have completed one chapter in their lives to begin another.
This year, graduation took on a whole new feeling as I think about my own high school experience. As of Wednesday this week, June 4, I have been out of high school for 25 years. My goodness, it has been a long time since I wore the cap and gown as I said goodbye to Winona High School as a student. Like some of our schools here in Scott County, Winona usually plans to hold commencement on the football field, but our year, as in the two classes before us, we were rained into the auditorium. Due to the small size of the auditorium at that time, each senior was only allowed four guest tickets.
I remember the valedictorian (Jeff Evans) and salutatorian (Christy Box) addresses and the performance on stage by senior members of the Winona Pride Band.
As my class of 1989 was preparing to graduate, I wasn’t thinking much about where I would be 25 years later. My mind was mainly focused on heading to Ole Miss and pursuing a degree in journalism. I have to say my 25-year ongoing career in journalism would not have been possible if not for Mrs. Carol Wolfe Griffin, who started the journalism program at WHS. She was a special mentor to me who gave me a strong foundation to launch my career all the way back in 10th grade. I have attended two official class reunions, at the 15 and the 20 year marks, and not all of my classmates were able to attend — Some of them due to untimely deaths -- my prayers for Catherine Abel, Vincent Small and more recently Cody Davis among those we have lost.
There was an effort during the past few months to organize a 25-year reunion, but it fell through. So many of us wanted to get together, but our lives are so different now. Back during our days at WHS, all someone had to say was “party!” where and when and people would show up. I know that from personal experience, nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Today, we have spouses and children, and we live in other places across the state and nation and various other circumstances to work around. Over 25 years, life happens as time marches forward.
But there will never be another day like June 4, 1989, the last time our entire class was together. I said goodbye to my classmates, never realizing it would be the last time I would ever see some of them. Fortunately, I can watch the commencement since having it recorded on tape, but it is not the same as being there. I was lucky to maintain communication with a number of classmates after graduation, and with the help of Facebook, I have kept up with them better and reconnected with others. At the same time, we are probably the last generation that remembers life before the Internet. Yes, life before the Internet actually existed! The Winona High School campus has changed a lot since we left 25 years ago, but the memories and cherished time we shared will never change, only growing stronger in our hearts for our alma mater.
To all of the graduates of WHS, MCHS and WCS completing their high school education within the past month: make the most of every opportunity that you have before you. Life is precious, and it will fly fast. It can also end in the blink of an eye. Before you know it, you will be staring at a calendar 25 years from now wondering, “where did the years go?”
Graduates, I urge you to try not to live with regret. Some of you graduated with honors this week so you know about making good grades. Others, like me, may just get by. That is one of my all time regrets — that I could have and should have done better. I just didn’t do it. I am proud to have earned my high school diploma from Winona and my college degree from Ole Miss, but there will always be in the back of my mind the knowledge I could have made better grades. All I can do now is impart my perspective onto my son, Aaron, and hope he comes to understand the importance of academics better than I did and earlier in life.
Graduates, I urge you to enjoy and soak up every moment. Take notes in a journal about what was going on at this time. When it’s over, it’s over. Today’s events are lifetime memories.
Finally, this is a new chapter starting in your life. Now is your chance to make needed corrections and chart your course. I pray for good winds and smooth sailing for all of you. Godspeed and Carpe Diem!!
Chris Allen Baker is a native of Winona and serves as managing editor of The Scott County Times in Forest. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.