By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
40 years since my graduation
Placeholder Image
Graduation ceremonies for many area high schools were held recently. Perhaps because we held no reunion, it hit me like a ton of bricks that my own senior class was graduated this very week.

But it was 40 years ago.

1969 seems like yesterday, at times. For kids today, though, it's just an obscure date in American history class. Richard Nixon was in the White House, Apollo 11 was preparing to go to the moon, and a music festival was being planned for a farmer's field in a place called Woodstock.

My 1969 Greene County High School graduation ceremonies were held in what was then called "the new gym." The building still stands on a hill overlooking the high school football stadium in Greensboro. Lettering spelling out "Home of the Tigers," our class gift, is still visible high on the southern exposure's edifice.

Funny what you remember from long ago. I stood next to my best childhood friend, Lamar Callaway, as we sang our "Alma Mater" for the last time. Lamar and I had drifted apart a little in high school, as he was an All State football player while I played tuba in the band. But in our elementary school days Lamar was a red-headed, freckle-faced kid with a perpetual glint of mischief in his brown eyes, always seeming to hide a chipped tooth behind a wry, crooked little grin. Lamar was Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, "Dennis the Menace" and Paul Newman's "Cool Hand Luke" all rolled into one - there was never a dull moment when he was around. I remember being thankful that the chance manner in which our marching order had been arranged by height let me finish up next to my old buddy, Lamar.

About the only other thing I remember from the graduation ceremony itself, oddly enough, was the color of our robes. Although our school colors were gold and black, the boys wore blue robes and the girls wore white ones, and our honor graduates draped gold silk scarves around their shoulders.

I can't tell you who our commencement speaker was, let alone the subject. But, I do remember that several classmates gave brief speeches while the rest of us fidgeted in the heat of the un-air-conditioned gym and tried not to misbehave. But we'd cut up so much during rehearsals that every once in a while one or two of those memories would crop up, eliciting a chuckle. And when one kid snickered, so would another, for it was contagious, of course - kind of like laughing in church.

Can it really be that 40 years have come and gone? That ceremony marking our transition from childhood to adulthood was just yesterday, wasn't it? The Beatles were still together. "Get Back" held the number one spot on the Top 40 countdown for the entire month of May. It was on all the AM radio stations.

In 2009 many high school graduates travel widely about the world on "senior trips" following their graduation. Well, that didn't much happen back in the day. The only trip any able-bodied senior boy could expect was an all-expenses-paid jump across the Pacific to a hellhole called Vietnam, unless one could wangle a deferment by going to college, or joining the National Guard.

Curious about things shown on television news occurring on the Left Coast, I wanted to hock my '64 Chevy Impala, buy a Harley-Davidson, and ride across America to San Francisco.

But my Selective Service classification was I-A, so that couldn't happen. My second option was to go to college and major in journalism, which didn't work out, either. Emory was my first choice, but the cost was prohibitive. Cost proved moot, however, as even Georgia's school of journalism was unimpressed with my scholastic rank - exactly in the middle of my little class.

I suppose everything worked out all right. Contemplating the water that's run under the bridge for 40 years, though, is it just me? Or do we all wonder what might have been?

Most of our teachers are long gone. Our principal and our band director died just a few months ago. But my 93-year-old mother, who taught typing class, is still around, as are a few of our young assistant coaches.

But what became of my classmates? What stories could we tell if only we could sit for a spell in the cool shade of a tall tree?

Of the 72, one is in prison serving a life sentence. At least three are dead, already. Our class produced a teacher, a school superintendent, a pharmacist, and one fellow who rose to hold an important post for Gov. Joe Frank Harris. Two guys went to Tech, and one of them designed Atlanta's "Spaghetti Junction" interchange, though he told me he would never drive his own family over it. And we turned out no fewer than three preachers.

Forty years? Not possible.

There's a kid pictured on page 130 of my 1969 yearbook who bears my name, but he sure doesn't resemble the face I see in the mirror every morning. Could that really be me? And if so, what in the world happened? And how could I have missed it?

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.