To make sure that no alumni inductee had a senior moment and got lost or locked in a locker, each of us was assigned a student to lead us through the day. I had a delightful girl named, Ashley. This is awful, but I don’t know her last name.
Ashley is a senior and a delightful young woman who is in the midst of choosing a college and a career.
At lunch, I made sure that I sat by students. There were four of them next to me and across the table.
During my talk to the student body, I mentioned that if I had the time, what I would love to do is to talk to each student for a few minutes. I’d ask them questions … what is it like being a teenager today? What are your fears and what excites you? Maybe, what’s your favorite vegetable? Do you do drugs? Do kids your age have sex?
Yes, I will go there.
I wanted to hear their stories, listen to what is really in their heads.
We hear of this and that and read about horror stories and kids in trouble and kids who excel, but what about all of those we don’t hear from. Don’t they count?
I think they do.
Since I didn’t have time to do that, as I mentioned, I made sure that I got to talk to a few students at lunch.
There wasn’t time to go deep, but I was delighted with the students.
All four of them engaged in the conversation and answered openly and thoughtfully. And, the bonus was, they engaged me. They didn’t ignore me. We all chatted and asked each other questions.
One of the most telling comments was made by a young woman who told me that they have a pretty close-knit school. There is a sense of community and kids, for the most part, get along.
And I sensed that.
When they all concurred, I almost cried.
Norwood, my hometown, is a city that has its struggles. It isn’t anyone in that. But, being my hometown, and having had a terrific childhood growing up there, I want it to flourish.
Heroin is a big problem. Some areas suffer from blight. They had a recent flood, that ruined people’s homes. The population of the schools has receded since I was there.
When I grew up there, industrial plants were everywhere. GM anchored the town and tax revenue from other companies allotted good tax revenue for the schools and city.
There were neighborhood parks throughout the city. The parks were a big part of my upbringing.
Then, things changed. GM closed their plant. Other companies closed or moved out of the city.
That was years and years ago. Yes, I am in a time warp. I know it.
If a town or city can have a pulse, a heartbeat, I know that Norwood’s, was in distress, at least, financially.
Having moved out of Norwood years and years ago, I still returned because my parents lived there. I’d see the changes … good and some, questionable.
After my mother died and we moved my dad closer to us, I had a very difficult time going back to Norwood because Norwood represented loss to me.
The loss of my parents, childhood, youth.
When I drove through Norwood, it hurt. Driving up Indian Mound almost always brought tears.
Driving past “The Pike”, I was upset because it wasn’t the setting of my youth. There were different stores. Closed up stores. Where did Mrs. Allison’s go? For pete’s sake, where was the Plaza and Buskens and Steinbergs?
Someone had moved my cheese.
It wasn’t until enough time had passed that I was able to look at Norwood with unveiled eyes and a broken heart.
Many of you have helped me come to terms, put things in perspective, such as life, the past … high school years.
So, when I went into that auditorium last Friday morning, what appeared in front of those wonderful students, was the summation of a life that had its beginnings in Norwood.
Norwood was a bigger Mayberry. We had our Andys and Barneys and Gomers and Goobers and Dr. Schweitzers and General Pattons and Vera Ellens and Warren Buffets and Aunt Bees, too.
And that, is a hard history for a town to live up to.
Is Norwood as it was then?
Is any hometown?
That isn’t even a question that I can answer because all I have are memories and clouded visions of what I think was.
But what I do know and what I saw in the eyes of these four students, is that Norwood is raising some good, strong, thoughtful students, that will serve their town and this world, nicely.