Proudest yet saddest time of the year watching the 2023 grads walk the stage
After three years in Wheatland, I feel that I have been embraced by this year’s graduating classes more than any other year I’ve been here.
Perhaps it’s because I came in for the first time in 2020 and watched how they weathered a world pandemic. Perhaps it’s because I took more pictures of these kids than I had of any other group of kids in my whole life – and that is including my own kids.
I’ve watched them grow from teenagers into young men and women who I am convinced will be part of a generation that will change the world. I see wisdom in our Platte County kids far above their years and more than that, I see an excitement and an adventure in their eyes.
They seem to be able to go with the flow and they are having a blast doing it. I have fond memories of the homecoming crowds and the costuming that went into homecoming week. The “W” was set on fire and the kids sang Johnny Cash. I was dubbed a celebrity in a “dress like a famous person” contest and she didn’t know it, but Hadley Paisley made my day as it had been a very stressful week. It’s funny how these kids can make me laugh just when I need it the most.
And I remember the night in Guernsey when a senior football player collapsed on the football field after the game, weighed down with grief knowing his father had been killed in a freak accident the day before. Yes, they make me laugh, but they also teach me that it’s OK to cry with them. They, for lack of a better term “huddle” and “rally” around each other like no class I’ve ever seen.
And then… walking into the band room after a concert and still hear them playing improvised tunes and dancing around the band room – with a feeling that they wanted that moment to last forever. This group has learned to live in the moment and to savor the memories.
I could go on and on – about mud-covered exteriors from pig wrestling, shouts of jubilation after winning a regional volleyball title and playing in all weather as the softball team does. And they tell me their stories. They mug for my camera. They make me feel like family. They make me feel special even when I know I’m not.
Perhaps that is the best for an old journalist on his own with his own family grown. It’s like I have kids again.
Because, back in the day, when we were out of silverware and I had to go treasure hunting into my son’s room or had to break up a sibling disagreement or sat up with a son who had his girlfriend break his heart and I prayed, “Lord, let them graduate soon before I lose my mind…”
I have perhaps grown or have come to that time of my life when I would give anything for just one more moment of chaos in our home. And maybe it’s the magic of the class of 2023 that makes me want them to stay just a while longer.
But they are off to live new chapters, create new worlds and explore all the adventures that their lives have promised there’d be. This week many graduation parties are going forth and I have been invited to a ton of them. To at least say good-bye one more time. To sip punch, to eat graduation cake and to of course, be there to catch goofy grins on their faces with my Canon.
But a strange twist of fate will take me back to my own high school in Wisconsin this coming week where I will be enshrined in the “Menomonee Falls Fine Arts Hall of Fame,” at a special ceremony with three other alumni from other graduating years. It’s an honor, but it will cause me to have to miss my Wyoming kids. And I am quite sure that when I am receiving my plaque, my special group of young people who have my heart from the class of 2023 will be on my mind.
Class of 2023. Thank you for making me feel welcome. Thank you for sharing your stories. Thank you for more memories than I will ever be able to remember in my old age. But… who am I kidding? I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning. Somehow though… I don’t think I’ll ever forget you.
Go learn things. Continue to laugh. Continue to huddle. Continue to love like you do. The world needs you.