This month marks 40 years since I graduated from Cherokee High School. It certainly doesn’t seem that long ago. I can almost smell the freshly cut grass as we, the Class of 1980, marched across Tommy Baker Field to receive our diplomas. We were all filled with dreams of some sort. Some were probably more ambitious than others. Those mindsets would follow us into adulthood. Since that time in my life, there have been few I have continued to socialize with. Some are deceased. A few have spent time in jail or prison. All have achieved some level of success, personally and professionally, in their lives. The particular level of success is dependent on your point of view. Wherever we ended up, we’ve moved on. Most of us anyway. There will always be a few, in every class, who will never really move on from the glory days of high school.

There was a level of sadness walking across the stage under the stadium lights. At the time, my brain wasn’t mature enough to understand what caused the sadness. As my brain continued to develop, it became clearer I was leaving something which left a great impact on my life. The memories would lodge in their proper place to be recalled from time to time as needed. Just as I am doing now. Unlike some, I had no glory days in high school. It didn’t stop me from having a good time and making memories. Yet it wasn’t so good that I had nowhere to go but down when I left. There was plenty of room for improvement as there still is today. That has been the one constant throughout my life.

Today’s graduates are no doubt more advanced scholastically than we were at the same age. They should be. With time, many technological advances have been made to improve learning and teaching. As for street smarts, it’s doubtful they are any smarter than we were. It’s possible even, they may be less prepared to face the cold world they are getting ready to enter. Ready or not, they are in for a dose of reality. More than anything, I hope I’m wrong about their mental and emotional preparedness. The world is only getting tougher to navigate.

I had many friends and teachers who will forever be a warm memory of days gone by. But it was more than that. I remember typing class. Since there were no computers, we used typewriters. We were taught which keys to rest our fingers on before we began typing. Though I still remember those keys, I never became proficient at the skill. To this day, I hunt and peck but at a respectable pace. One of the highlights of any class was being handed a freshly copied test paper or handout. There was nothing like the smell. One might have thought we were getting high from sniffing the freshly printed paper. Though the paper was often still wet, I never did get high. But I sure enjoyed that smell. When I took Floyd Moody’s drafting class, I though he was one of the coolest guys around. His hair was longer than most of his students. And once he got us started doing our thing, we listened to WKLS, better known as 96-Rock, on the radio. Mr. Kenneth Dickerson taught us driver’s education. The truth is, back then, most kids could drive anything. Some had been driving for years before taking his class. There was little traffic. Therefore, he had a high pass rate. Later in his life, he opened a driving school. I’m sure that was eye opening.

There were great teachers, And, then there were legends. It is virtually impossible to be a graduate of Cherokee High School and never have heard of Ms. Mauldin and Ms. Parris. Both were special and born for the classroom. Their ways could have been taken straight from a script of The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie. They weren’t always treated kindly. Yet they endured. It’s almost ironic that we would learn of The Scarlett Letter from someone as pure and undefiled as Lorraine Mauldin. I saw her laugh. I saw her cry. And toward the end of her life, we would sit and talk. I would thank her for teaching me enough English to be able to write this column. She would beam knowing I recognized her importance. I miss her.

Congratulations Class of 2020. Forty years from now, I pray your memories are as rich as mine.

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Chris Collett is a longtime resident of Cherokee County.

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