Class of 1988 to the Class of 2008

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dear Class of 2008. You are now in the final leg of your secondary education race. All senior classes believe they are simply the best and this year will be one of excitement, intrepidation, fear, tears, laughter and so much more. I thought I would use this space today to offer some advice to those who carry an 8 in their class.

Twenty years ago, I began my senior year at Greenville High School. I had only gone to GHS for a year and a half, so unlike so many others, I had time to make up in the friends category.

GHS was vastly different from the school I transferred from but I have to say that the friendships I made in that short time have lasted me until today.

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That's the first thing I want to talk about. Enjoy your friendships this year. Treasure them. Take as many photos as you can. Because on graduation day, when you walk through that gate at Tiger Stadium, you'll likely never see your entire class together again. People you thought you'd never part from suddenly are no longer a part of your life. But don't worry, it's a part of the circle of life we all go through.

Today, when I think back to the people I knew and loved so dearly, and yearn for those days long ago, I pull out pictures I took of people in our classrooms. There's one of Paige Tutchtone and Becky Freeland in Mrs. Rose Ellis' 12th Grade Advanced English class. There's the picture of Christi Luckie and Mandy Burkhalter in Mrs. Francis Benson's business class. We all look so young and so full of life and today I look at those pictures and think, where did 20 years go?

Second, if you plan to go to college, explore every possibility. Don't go to Alabama because you're a fan of the football program. Don't go to Auburn simply because you like their Game Day.

You are not limited in your choices of college. If you meet the grades and other criteria for Harvard, go to Harvard. Go to Yale. Go to Notre Dame. Go to the University of Alaska.

The biggest thing I remember about those last days of high school was believing I could not go anywhere outside of Alabama. But you have a first-class educational foundation, given to you freely by your high school. Use that basis to make your lives spectacular.

Third, remember your parents. The week I graduated from college, the dean of the school of journalism told the degree candidates in our class to go home, call home, whatever it took and to simply ask our parents what dreams they might have given up

so that we could go to school.

I would implore members of the Class of 2008 to ask your parents the same thing. What dreams did they put on hold while you made your way through 12 years of school? What might have changed in their lives to see you reach this point? I guarantee you that their answers might surprise you.

My mother simply began to cry when I asked her and she said her and dad's dream was to see their four children grow up and be successful in whatever we chose to do.

Fourth, remember your teachers for they truly incredible creations. A teacher friend in Atlanta, when I asked why she continued to teach just looked at me like I had lost my mind. I asked because I had just sat through a 10 minute tirade about how hard life seemed to be for her.

She told me simply that after nine years of teaching high school students, she wanted to do nothing else. She said she was the luckiest person in the world because she taught approximately 110 students a day in six different classes. At the end of the day, approximately four would have said thank you to her.

But yet, at the end of each year, she wept over everyone.

&#8220It's like letting your children go,” she said.

That's why Class of 2008, you must look at your teachers this year in amazement. For you see before you a human being that goes through joy, sadness, hurt, pain, compassion, loneliness and pride. Pride in your accomplishments. And then just like parents who can't stop their young from leaving, you walk away.

Fifth, it's going to be a wonderful school year, but look quick. It will be gone in a flash and then the world awaits. So enjoy these days to come. Remember them. Mark them in your memory book and know that what you make of your life from now on is not up to your mom and dad, anyone else, but it is up to you.

This year there will be challenges that you've never faced, but face them. Embrace them and make them your own. They will build the character of the person you will become in the future. As you do this and you think you've reached the capacity to overcome all and be successful, push harder. Your abilities are limitless and sometimes you have to sit back and watch something happen. When you do and come through it, smile and say to someone, &#8220Look at what God can do.”

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn after graduation was that life isn't easy. You have to work at it. Do you think the Class of 1948 believed they would watch a man walk on the moon? No, but someone dreamed it and it happened.

Sixth and final thought, make a list. List the things that you want to do in your life and then put it away. Every five years, pull the list out and check off the things you've accomplished. Make it an annual tradition of your very own. As you age, add to the list and keep ticking them off. And keep journals, in writing, online, just something that you can say chronicled your life.

For nine months, I wrote so many things about memories of growing up, school days, college years, family and now they're all safe on a memory stick. When I heard Superintendent Mike Looney does something similar I smiled. He understands the value of such things.

I know that if something happens to me, those who love me, will see what I was thinking or what was important to me. Oddly, looking back, material items never made the list. But rather, a good meal with a friend in Memphis, watching my niece play ball, listening to my mother sing, watching my father's laugh at his grandchildren, telling my Granny Thomas goodbye the night she died. So many things that people never thought I cared about, and now there's a record.

So Class of 2008, I hope you dream bigger and better than the Class of 1988. I hope you go farther, see more, do more, serve more, pray more, believe more, listen more, laugh more, learn more and just be so much more than my senior class. It's your duty to do that. It's your responsibility now to put that next layer on of the foundation of our history.

In 1988, we thought we had the world at our fingertips, now you must think you have the universe at your's. That's the least that we expect of you.

Good luck this year and God bless the Class of 1988 and the Class of 2008.

Jay Thomas is group managing editor of Greenville Newspapers. He can be reached at 334-382-3111, ext. 136 or via email at jay.thomas@greenvilleadvocate. com. Read previous columns at