Saying good-bye to my high school years after I graduated

Last autumn, the school board in my city began seriously discussing its budget and ways to cut money.  One of the biggest solutions was to consolidate from two high schools into one high school.  The one high school proposed to be shut down was the one from which I graduated a fair number of years ago.  When I first heard the news, I thought it was unfortunate, but it didn’t especially upset me.  I had enjoyed my high school days, but I was also very glad they were over.  I like being an adult way more than I ever liked being a teenager.  I moved on and got two college degrees thereafter.  High school wasn’t my last school.  I had been very involved in school and lots of activities.  I had fond memories, but they were in the past.  I didn’t even have hopes of sending my kids to the school one day.  Heck, I am still navigating preschool for my oldest child, so high school seems forever away, not to mention that we don’t even live in that school district.

As the school year progressed, it was becoming more apparent that shutting down my alma mater was inevitable.  And a few months ago the decision became final.  I had been invited to participate in events to try and save the school.  I didn’t participate.  I can’t say that I completely trust the school board in my city to make the best decisions when it comes to education here, but I did understand that money needs to be saved and changes have to occur.

But, then the decision was final.  I had a variety of other things going on in my own life that perhaps compounded it, but the school closing bothered me way more than I ever expected.  I didn’t think I would care that much, but I found myself tearing up.  I found myself feeling a bit nostalgic.  I understood the change was necessary.  I understood that the community needs most to come together in support of one single high school, but my heart was somewhat broken.  I delved deeper into what was going on inside and figured out why this bothered me more than anticipated.

First, this high school has been part of my life since I was a baby — and I mean that quite literally.  Both my parents graduated from the school and were high school sweethearts (well, technically their romance started in middle school).  When I was a child, high school basketball was what we did for fun.  We went to all sorts of the games.  We wore our red and white with pride.  We resented the other high school in town.

And that brings me to the second point.  My entire life this has been a two high school city.  This hasn’t always been the case.  The school I went to didn’t open until 1962.  My aunt, in fact, was a member of the first class to go all the way through the school.  (See my roots?)  For a brief time there was a third high school, but it didn’t last too long.  From the beginning, there was a deep rivalry between the two schools.  And by deep, I mean deep.  It’s beyond a normal rivalry.  For my entire life, my school was the underdog.  We were the high school that was deemed to be lower class.  It was looked down upon.  It wasn’t that.  It wasn’t that at all.  But, I had quite a number of experiences going to community events representing my school in a variety of ways from academically to musically where I had adults literally stop talking to me once I told them which school I attended.  It sounds dramatic, but it’s true.  In fact when I asked my high school guidance counselor for an application for a full tuition and room and board academic scholarship application to our university, she gave it to me with a sigh telling me that students from my school didn’t usually get this scholarship.  She was very clearly implying I was wasting my time.  I got the scholarship in spite of her “encouragement.”

And as a result of the above two reasons, I have also been proud of where I came from.  I have never been ashamed to say what school I went to.  I have never been ashamed that my school was filled with students who had parents primarily in a blue collar workforce.  My dad was among them and spent decades working hard at a factory to provide a great life for our family.  I am proud of students I graduated with.  Off the top of my head, I can think of a lawyer, a professor and a dentist who were all in my graduating class.

Along with the pride and history I have with the school, I also had a lot of good experiences in high school.  I met my husband there my freshman year.  Near the end of the year, on my 15th birthday, he asked me to be his girlfriend and I haven’t stopped since.  He graduated two years before I did.

This was my second summer of marching band, just before my freshman year of high school. We placed third in the state that year, the highest the band had ever placed before. Since then the band has gone on to win state championships and is regularly state champion or first runner-up.

I was very involved with school from student government to academic quiz bowl.  I participated in marching band  in the summer and in concert band all year long.  I went to basketball games and football games and played my trombone.  I loved it.  Band is another component in and of itself.  When I graduated from high school, I only felt sentimental cleaning out my band locker.  It was a big part of my life.

Knowing all of that history is falling by the wayside makes me sad.  I’ve felt frustrated that the school board wouldn’t consider possibly renaming the one remaining high school to avoid adding insult to injury.  And then the band came through for me yet again.  Band kids are good kids.  I am a “fan” of my former high school band on Facebook.  A few weeks ago, its logo changed to reflect the new school.  The new band name has combined the two band names and made a new name that fits well.  The band kids are leading the charge to bring the community together into one.  Even before the bell rings in one combined high school next fall, the band kids are coming together this summer as a unified marching band representing our city.

I feel sad to know things that are familiar to me and part of my history will be gone.  I feel sad that the school song I can still play on my trombone and sing word-for-word will no longer be used.  I’m unsure of what the future will hold for my city and its one high school.  I don’t know if in the end this will be a good change and my city will have one really strong high school or if it will flop and the community will balk.  I can’t predict the future.  I hope that the former happens.  I hope in a decade when my 4-year-old is getting ready for high school that if we are still in town the school will be a strong one that I’ll be proud to send her to.  We’ll just have to see.

For now, I’m left feeling a bit nostalgic and a bit sad.  I’ve found my ways to say good-bye through attending a high school basketball game and then last week attending a ceremony taking down the flag for the final time on the last day of school.  Sadly, a part of history is going to be missing in my town.  I and so many others are left only with our memories and hope that somehow, in some way our city will find a way to come together as one in spite of a divided past.

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