It’s been 50 years since I graduated from high school. Unbelievable. In my mind, it seems more like five years. Of course, to commemorate this milestone, our class assembled to celebrate our time together.
I was one of those kids that really liked high school in particular and school in general. In fact, I always liked going to class; I even liked studying. So, I have many fond memories of my high school days.
Like Randy Kight’s amazing athleticism on a basketball court, and Jimmy Keriotis’s phenomenal moves on a dance floor.
Or the brilliant and kind Sara Welch, who somehow got me through advanced biology.
And Debbie Collins who showed us it’s more than acceptable to be popular and smart.
For Jon Glazier and Philip DeShong teaching us the importance of leading an authentic life, although we couldn’t articulate that concept at the age of 17.
All of us have a Sara or Philip in our class –– individuals that have an impact on us far beyond our time in high school.
In all modesty, I must admit we did have a great class. We were a group filled with many, many smart people, but even bigger hearts. If our teachers and parents could have been at our reunion, they would have said that we were a group of just good people.
Over all those years, all of us traveled different roads to get to our reunion. And, as I will attest, those roads are not always smooth and straight. But our 50th class reunion taught me that we are a group that will leave the world a little better than we found it, and that is the definition of a life well lived.
There was one disappointment for me that evening –– Norma Mares did not attend. Now, to me, she was never Norma Mares. She always was Mrs. Mares, my journalism teacher. We would never dream of calling a teacher by his or her first name. After all, they were much older and wiser. Our teachers were ancient in our minds –– somewhere around 30 years old. All of us have that special teacher, and Mrs. Mares was mine.
My senior year, I needed an elective, so I signed up for the yearbook. I heard that you have a lot of free time if you were on the yearbook staff, and that sounded good to me. That would give me extra time in the gym, time I needed to keep up with my good friend, Randy.
But I didn’t get that opportunity because other classmates had beaten me to it. So, they put me on the newspaper staff. It was a decision that would ultimately change my life. Of course, I also give all the credit to Mrs. Mares.
She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I’m sure she saw I was a bit shy and lacked a lot of self-confidence. Mrs. Mares took me under her wing and encouraged me to be the best version of myself. I also remember Mrs. Mares and her husband, Daniel, taking our group to a high school newspaper conference. (I’ll never forget Mr. Mares was so respectful of us and our hopes and dreams.) Mrs. Mares did anything and everything to give us the tools that would make us successful.
Looking back, it was her boundless passion and energy for journalism that made me want to follow in her footsteps. And I did. Mrs. Mares graduated with a journalism degree from the University of North Texas and so did I. She loves North Texas, and so do I. Of course, there was another amazing group of professors at my university that helped me take my career to a whole new level.
Even though it’s been 50 years, I will never forget the difference Mrs. Mares made in my life. That’s what good teachers do. Not only do they impart knowledge; they inspire and motivate.
This month we begin another school year in Caddo and Bossier parishes. Thousands of students and hundreds of teachers will assemble for what I believe is the most important function of society –– education. My hope is that every teacher in our community will become a Norma Mares –– an educator with passion, enthusiasm and a devotion to making every day a great day for every student under his or her care.
Then, 10 years, 20 years, 50 years from now, there will be another student writing a thank you note to that teacher who, like Mrs. Mares, made all the difference in the world.