So, I have officially started my senior year of college, and I have been slacking all summer and not doing near enough on my blog as I had hoped. However, in all fairness, these past few weeks are the longest I have been home all summer. I have been all over the place, and it has been amazing and exhausting at the same time. It is one of those bittersweet feelings where you have had lots of fun, but once you are finally still long enough you realize that you are ready to crash. Now, I am grounded in Mississippi (specifically Cleveland, MS) for the next four months, and it is time to get in school mode. I have been wanting to share all of the cool places I have gone, wonderful people I have met, and interesting things I have experienced. I kept thinking that I would get around to writing about one experience when all of the sudden something else happened, and I just let my assumptions of having plenty of time get the better of me. So, if I ever plan to get back on track, I guess the first place to start would be my first trip: Baton Rouge, LA.
Last fall I was notified that I was chosen as the recipient of the Nell Thomas Teaching Scholarship. This scholarship was named after a high school English teacher from Greenville, MS. The graduating classes of 1954 and 1955 came together to form a scholarship in her honor because they felt the world could use more teachers like Nell Thomas; and where better to give a scholarship than in the teaching program of her alma mater, Delta State University. Nell Thomas was featured in Look magazine and was was a runner up for the National Teacher of the Year in 1964.
Sometime in early Spring, Ann Giger over the scholarships at DSU contacted me and informed me that the class of 1954 was having their 58th reunion in Baton Rouge and wanted me to attend. Of course, I said yes. Little did I know what a huge blessing this time would be. Ann and I left the Friday of finals week and had a great time driving through Louisiana, seeing the sights, and getting to know each other.
Once we arrived, we immediately headed to dinner at a country club. It was an interesting affair as people who had not seen each other in a few years (and some in 58 years) reunited. I heard several stories about good ole times and Nell Thomas. I silently watched as there was a special memorial held for deceased classmates. I was struck during the memorial when one of the ladies spoke about how there is no longer any schisms between them. No longer is that person the cool jock, that person the smart nerd, that one the band geek. They were 58 years wiser and come to realize that petty differences, social strata, and dissimilar interests were no longer excuses to not be close friends. They were there to celebrate the fact that they were 58 years past their high school graduation and were still kicking up their heels. Several times, they mentioned the fact that they were glad they still had each other and a unique bond of place, time, and people that they could hold on to when other seemingly important people and things in life had slipped away.
The outside of the gorgeous country club
Myself with Billy and his wife who arranged the whole reunion.
The next day we toured the Elliot Breast Cancer Research Center. One of the Greenville graduates started this center after his wife developed cancer, and now it is one of the top three cancer research centers in America. We were allowed to see all of the labs and equipment, and after hearing Dr. Elliot talk, I now understand why doctor bills are so expensive. I was very impressed with the facility and the research going on. Dr. Elliot has said that they are about three years away from finding a cure for a certain type of breast cancer! Is that not amazing? It was crazy to think that this place and this once class clown of Greenville High is shaping and influencing the future.
The original members of the class (minus their spouses). Let me be the first to tell ya, they rock.
After the research center we ended the festivities by heading to one of the Elliot’s other country clubs in downtown Baton Rouge. It was gorgeous. We had a great dinner, walked down memory lane, did some raffles, and I had to give a speech. All in all it was a pretty grand evening.
This was one of the items that was auctioned off. One of the members of the class knows screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen who is famous for such movies as Karate Kid, A Walk in the Clouds, and Taken. The class member was able to get three bottles of Mr. Kamen’s wine with a famous quote and signature written on it. These bottles were auctioned off in order to raise money for the scholarship. The picture above features the quote: “I will find you, and I will kill you” from Taken.
Overall, it was a great trip, and I grew to appreciate my scholarship and the people who made it possible even more. I love hanging around older people because in some sense you get a glimpse of the future and possibilities. These people were still loving life and could not be more thrilled to take time and invest in other peoples’ lives who 58 years before they carelessly passed or avoided in the hallways. Oh the lessons to be learned from our elders. It just made me wonder how my former classmates were doing and how I should have done more to be present in different peoples’ lives and not worried about petty differences. I just hope in 58 years time we are doing as well and can embrace each other and life as these people have done.
These people also showed me that a good education is to be valued. I found it amazing that 58 years later they still were talking about the impact Nell Thomas had on their lives. That goes to show you what a good teacher can do: educate, influence, and inspire. In someway or another, every graduate’s life was enriched by her. For Dr. Elliot, she challenged him and told him he had great potential and could do better, and now he is curing cancers. For another lady, she became an English teacher because of Mrs. Thomas’s inspiration. And yet others went on to do great things and be every day citizens who knew all the proper parts and functions of speech as well as the prologue to The Canterbury Tales in perfect Middle English.
How considerate these people are to try and make a difference in the future of educators. I must say, this college student and hopefully her future students appreciate the fact that others are investing in bettering education rather than only accumulating things or spending it just on themselves. I hope I am a fraction as cool as these people when I am older. Just saying. If that is the case, I have much to look forward to.