Graduates: Some words of wisdom before you leave
I have checked every device I own and the mailboxes at both The Gazette and at home (twice!) and still haven’t received an invitation to be the guest speaker at my alma mater of Hammonton High School (HHS) this year. It’s a shame because I had a good theme. Ah, well. Since I’d rather not waste it, here’s the speech I would have given:
President Mento, Superintendent Chieco, faculty, parents and members of the Hammonton High School Class of 2022: May I give you some words of wisdom before you leave?
Most of you have a yearbook. I own a business that is still largely driven by words on the printed page, although we have expanded heavily into the digital realm as well. I’m happy to see graduates of HHS still receive a yearbook at the end of their senior year.
Here’s my suggestion to you, and while it absolutely sounds old-school, I hope you’ll do it. Take that yearbook and have as many people you know—particularly your closest friends—written in it with their words of wisdom.
The Gazette is fortunate enough to have an archive that includes nearly every yearbook from HHS and St. Joseph High School (and St. Joseph Academy). That archive includes my own yearbook from my senior year of 1991.
I’ve kept it for more than 30 years, and I can tell you this: I am glad I went around and had people sign my yearbook.
When I say “sign my yearbook” of course I don’t just mean a signature. Some people wrote letter-length entries that crossed two of the large pages of the book. They signed in black ink, red ink—even purple ink—and re-reading them has always been a pleasure. It transports me back to that moment in time when we weren’t kids anymore but weren’t quite adults yet either.
Leafing through the pages of that old yearbook from my senior year in 1991, I found some words of wisdom from my classmates, including:
• “You’re a great person, a little cocky but what the hey, no one’s perfect.”
• “Gotta remember all those heavy discussions in homeroom.”
• “Well, believe it or not, I’m happy with the way you turned out. Did I just compliment you? Oh no!”
• “It’s time we must pull up our roots and spread them in different directions.”
• “I won’t say goodbye. Just see you later.”
And of course, one of my favorites:
• “Follow the heart because the mind second guesses.”
I’ll keep who wrote what to me back then to myself. But I promise you, if you have people sign your yearbook now, decades later you will be happy to have those memories up on your bookshelf, easily accessed each time you read them.
Someday, your kids will read them too, and maybe they’ll kid you about what they read, whether it’s handwritten notes by your fellow graduates, or something in the yearbook itself. I know we joked around with our parents about it when we were young. It’s kind of a rite of passage.
So, before you go, if you haven’t already done so, make sure you have your friends jot down their words of wisdom in your yearbooks. Many years from now, when you read them from the distance of time and years of living, the emotions that those words will pull from you will be profound. Whether they bring laughter or tears, or both, you’ll feel fortunate you can read them.
Those words are a bridge between where you are now and where you will be, whenever you will be there. And because it’s a yearbook, you never have to worry about it being deleted. Unless you lose it. Or damage it. But you all look like responsible people, so that probably won’t happen.
Words have such meaning, particularly on the printed page. Take it from me. There’s a certain magic to reading your classmates’ thoughts written right before you all graduate high school, especially when you read them decades later. Their words have a wisdom to them. Make sure you take time to collect those words before you head out into the world.
Congratulations to the Hammonton High School Class of 2022.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.