Smoke Signals

An Open Letter to the Graduating Class

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Courtesy of West High Theater

Courtesy of West High Theater

Courtesy of West High Theater

Todd Potter, Sports Editor

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  Next Tuesday is National College Decision Day, and so, in that spirit, I offer this to anyone who feels unsure as they take that leap of faith, officially committing to a college to follow a passion or find their vocation.  Next Tuesday may feel like one big bound, but do not forget the small steps that have brought every senior this far.

   Remember the family members that have guided you on this journey.  Remember the words of teachers that inspired growth and deeper understanding.  Remember the never-ending conversations with friends and the time spent procrastinating.  Remember the triumphs and the tragedies, the awkward silences and how the room gets loud as soon as the teacher steps out for a moment.  Remember, and be grateful. Be glad, even if high school was not what the movies make it out to be.

  Yes, I need not remind you that time is a nonrenewable resource, but there is a month left of school.  A month left to find the words you need to say to someone. A month left to learn how to say goodbye, realizing that the people who matter most will stay in your life beyond these hallways.  I hope you have found out, it is the people, not the places, that make West High special.

  Cherish the people you have found here and even now, continue meeting new people.  Why not? May is the middle of so many endings and so many beginnings for seniors, but do not rush blindly through this month.  Instead, consider each step you take on this journey and the people who walk by your side.

  Next Tuesday, seniors will see where everyone else is going to college.  The magnitude of this decision finally will hit some people. There will be laughing, crying, hugging, and talking to students you may have never talked to before.  One last lunch all together before the last full month of school.

  All of of these feelings hit me on a smaller scale after Godspell about two weeks ago.  I had helped run sound for the show, and after fully becoming a part of the wonderful Play Production community a few weeks before, I felt obligated and honored to give a senior speech.  Here is the substance of what I remember saying and before I close, I’d like to offer some reflection on what it means for the graduating seniors:

  “First, I’d like to say I regret nothing.  I mean, I wish I had met you guys sooner and that we had more time together, but all that matters is that I am here now.  I love that we are putting on Godspell together because I think it is the perfect musical as we deal with changes in our lives: us seniors graduating, new people coming into Play Prod next year.  It’s all about forming a community and dealing with how that community changes as its members move on or die.

  “Earlier I said that it all felt surreal, the party before Jesus’ inevitable betrayal, the happy-sad people call bittersweet.  And yes, Jesus dies. The seniors graduate. But what we have here does not die. We move on, but we keep in touch and come back together.

  “Every night, I watch from that same place where the soundboard is as people come up and say their last goodbye to Jesus before he is to be betrayed.  I watch as each actor hands Jesus back the book they received from him in the beginning of the musical and think: that’s me. I’m handing back my book that I received freshman year as a senior graduating.  

  “Now I take what I learned, and I share it with you before I move onto college, but friends, the journey continues.  This is not the end. As Sarah Geltz (12) says in the second act, ‘This is the beginning.’  The story does not end when every actor returns their book or when Jesus is crucified.

  “In the finale, we all come back together.  Jesus is resurrected. I believe we will come back and watch each other perform in the years to come.  Watch as, each year, some of us hand in our books and others receive them for the first time. We get to choose how this story continues, but this is not the end.  

  “See, we are going to take all of the joy, all of the love, all of the community we have shared here together and make sure it goes beyond these four walls and this stage out into the world.”

  So, even though seniors are graduating in a little over a month, do not feel betrayed by time.  I know that this community will live on beyond this year, and I cannot wait to see what each and every one of you does in the future or what we do as a community together.

  After the last show, as everyone was taking pictures with each other, hugging, laughing, crying, occasionally an actor or actress would come up to me with their microphone, and I would think: that’s the last time I’m taking off so-and-so’s mic.    

  And then, it hit me.  People were coming to me with their mics like they had come to Jesus with their books, and I think that’s the perfect metaphor for our high school experience.

  At the end of each year, after the final, you rip off the brown paper bag cover you made months ago and return your textbook for that class to the library so more people can learn what you learned that year, but one thing no one returns is their knowledge.  

  We keep all of the memories we made here in these hallways and get to share them with everyone.  We keep this joy, love, and community. No one can make us return it or file it away in the bottom drawer.  We may return our books and our microphones, but we keep our knowledge, memories, and voices.

  So, next Tuesday, add your voice to this chorus.  Tell a story or two to people you do not talk to often or even at all.  Share your high school experience with others, and cherish each step toward your graduation, your diploma, and your future beyond these hallways.

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