October 20 • 10:48 PM

Strolling down commencement lane

June 07, 2017
I'm at the commencement exercises at Dryden Jr./Sr. High School when the memories start to float to the surface.

They bubble up like a tiny spring in a pond made murky by the passing of so much time.

I recall my own high school graduation 42 years ago...Can that be right? Forty. Two. Years. Is that even possible?

The graduates right in front of me are sharing memories of their time together, which for most of them dates back to kindergarten.

They talk about how well they know each other, and that they know each other's parents and grandparents, too. They talk about the Dryden community, referring to it as a 'small town family,' that they know will continue to welcome and hold them in tender, loving arms regardless of where they go or how long they stay away.

I'm touched by the warmth and affection, and a little jealous about the familiarity and friendships the classmates talk about.

When I graduated from Livonia Stevenson High School in 1975, I was one of several hundred in the class. While I had gone to elementary and junior high with some of the students, the high school was filled with people from other parts of the huge school district, which at the time included five high schools.

The community was booming as new homes and subdivisions went up at a rapid pace all through the 1960s and 70s. There was no 'small town family feel' to the bedroom community I grew up in. We knew all of the neighbors on our block and the surrounding streets, but there were just too many people for any super close relationships to develop beyond those bounds.

I didn't know many of my classmates, as the "I'm okay, you're okay" years I went to school the standards were relaxed. School officials and administrators toyed with a 'pass/fail' system so students wouldn't be defined by a letter grade. There were smoking corridors and we could leave the campus for lunch, considering a number of students drove their parents' cars to school.

By the time I reached my senior year, I had enough credits to graduate already. My school day ran from 9 a.m. to noon, when I rushed off to my well-paid job as a keypunch operator at Awrey Bakery. I loved every minute of that job, where I outpaced my minimum wage earning friends by a good 50 cents. I was rolling in the dough at $2.60 an hour.

I didn't know the Valedictorian of my class except by name. Ditto for the Salutatorian. These days, I'd be hard pressed to name 10 members of Stevenson's Class of 1975, as the relationships and connections seemed limited to the confines of the brick and mortar school building.

This is so not the case at Dryden Jr./Sr. High School. As I sit and listen to Student Council President Sean Riley, to Salutatorian Haylee Wolle and Valedictorian Mia Sliman, I'm impressed with the constant theme of family and friendship that's woven through their recollections. Each of them remark on their differences and similarities, and how they know and appreciate their connection to the small town community that nurtured and nourished their souls throughout the years.

The Dryden Jr./Sr. High School family is a close one, indeed. I imagine it will be so throughout the years—because they always have the community to welcome them back home.

Email Catherine at cminolli@pageone-inc.

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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