It was bittersweet to walk away from my alma mater on Sunday after a rededication ceremony of McClain High School, which was celebrated this past weekend for its century of educational existence.
I was on that campus all weekend for the centennial celebration, going here and going there and snapping pictures along the way. And as I traversed those corridors I routinely traversed more than two decades ago, my feet still knew where to go. The smells, they were the same. Even my old biology classroom, which to me always smelled of the preserved frogs we had to cut into during that dreaded dissection day, still smelled of the shriveled carcasses awaiting the touch of a student-held scalpel.
Everywhere I went there were people taking it all in, hugging, laughing, smiling and remembering. I saw my old teachers, classmates, principals, school board members and superintendents. Graduates from the 1940s to more recent years all turned out for the event and all the activities.
All in all, I don’t know that the three-day celebration could have gone any better.
Walking those halls, passing through the old gym, ducking into classrooms, all these things made my own aged memories clamor for attention in my thoughts.
On Saturday I played guide for a couple hours to those who were touring the school.
I was stationed at the top of the marble staircase ready to tell all who passed by about the mural hanging over that respected passage between the first and second floor.
And as I stood there, information at the ready, I couldn’t help but notice all of the many people that came my way. One lady smiled as she came up the marble stairs. She told me at the top that she had not been on them since her 1949 graduation. She said when she was in school you didn’t dare touch those steps or else you’d get a “crack.”
As a matter of fact, a lot of the graduates from older generations said a “crack” was imminent if a student dared to try that revered staircase. I assured them all that even though getting a spanking had become a no-no by the time I was in high school, consequences nonetheless awaited any of us who dared to take those stairs.
As I’ve written before, I was on the marble stairs for the first time for my baccalaureate in 1992, and not on them again until this past summer. Even then, more than two decades later, I looked over my shoulder before taking that first step. So ingrained was the respect of not just the marble stairs, but the buildings, that the artwork was never mussed, never bothered, the stairs left untouched.
And as I stood on the gleaming wood floors on Saturday I also found myself telling people that the floors, the whole building, was not just shined up for the celebration weekend. They always look that way.
And they do. Even though I didn’t walk the marble stairs until this summer, I’ve been in the school for one thing or another in recent years. And it always, always looks immaculate. Its constant state of perfect presentation is most definitely a testament to the pride that is taken by those charged with maintaining the school, and for those who inhabit the hallways throughout the week.
During this weekend’s celebration, that pride was a tangible thing, something that seemed to fill the space between all the bodies milling around.
As a student, being surrounded by all that is contained in McClain, well, it was just there, all that art a part of our student space. I don’t know that any of us really thought about it. We respected it all, knew it was there, knew something about all of the pieces, but it was also our constant background. Only in having to move on, I think, can we truly see what was.
There wasn’t a single graduate that I saw this weekend that didn’t wear pride and appreciation right out front where everyone could see it.
And there was so much remembering. I saw a multitude of hugs, so much laughter, and it was hard to hear anything in particular for all the conversation going on.
One of the best memories of how people embraced their yesterday’s spent in the McClain hallways came from a married couple I have always known as a part of our community. As they passed my guide station at the top of the marble staircase, the husband reached in front of him to his wife’s purse and pulled it off her shoulder. She turned right around and the two of them just started laughing and both seemed to go back in time a bit.
He turned to me and said that he used to do that to her every day right in front of the marble staircase. And only a few months after that antic began, she started dating him, she said. The 1976 graduates of McClain High School have been married now for 38 years.
I met one man who began his education in Greenfield, but moved away as a teenager. He and his wife came back for the celebration because he had made such friends in Greenfield and McClain had left its impression on him.
Another couple who have only lived in the area for a few years have always heard about the school, so they came up to tour it and it’s more than they imagined it could be, they said.
As a building, the high school is like none other, that’s for sure. It really is like a gleaming museum untouched by the hands of time that have moved across it for a century.
The campus is something to behold, too.
But I think what I got the most from this weekend is that none of that would mean very much at all if there weren’t students to be taught, teachers to teach, administrators to administer, and a community that has never failed to support this gem that sits in the middle of our humble little berg.
We graduates grew in this place. In these halls and classrooms and bleachers and gyms and athletic fields we began to discover ourselves and life. In this place we dreamed. In this place is where we began to lay our own foundation for the living that would come after graduation, after finally getting to walk down that marble staircase and be recognized.
And I think we got to capture that a bit again this weekend. At least I know I did.
So, it was bittersweet to walk away Sunday knowing that the celebration had concluded, that we would all go back to our own things. But, I think some of us are going back to our own things with a little better understanding, a little deeper appreciation, and a whole lot of pride for this unique place that certainly helped shape who we have become.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.