Small town school with a big heart

A few weeks ago I learned that a high school classmate was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a sad moment for me. While we haven’t kept in touch very often since high school, it is always sad to hear that someone you know and care about is affected by that frustrating disease. I have very fond memories of this woman with her bright smile, high energy and spunky personality. I know her great attitude will help her through this challenge. As will her high school friends.

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That is the amazing thing about my hometown and our school. When I attended, our school totaled a little more 500 students; my class was 110. There were certainly moments when the small size provided frustrations, however, I enjoyed knowing names of people I passed in the hallway. There was an odd, yet comforting, bond that kept us together.

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My very best friend forever

 I am fortunate to keep in touch with many of my childhood/high school friends. My very dear best friend has held that title since we were 3 years old. I can’t imagine life without her and I’m fairly certain that our classmates can’t picture us apart, as inseparable as we were (and still are). My Facebook ‘friend’ list is majority childhood classmates.

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When I was diagnosed with cancer in spring 1997, my world almost collapsed. Cancer wasn’t supposed to hit 21-year-olds who had big plans for the future. But it did. Then something amazing happened. Word spread amongst my classmates that I was seriously ill. Flowers, cards, notes started arriving. Phone calls from long-lost friends. Those simple gestures by so many childhood contacts gave me more strength than any of them could know. When my dad died in 2004, the same overwhelming results occurred.

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Of course, like most high school teenagers, many of us were anxious to step outside the boundaries of our town and experience the “great wide open world.” I took off to Central Michigan University where my eyes were opened to diversity, the struggles others face and sometimes rough taste of adulthood that made me long for the days of attending football games, volunteering with the Student Senate, and hanging out with my high school classmates. Leaving home was the best decision I made and I’m grateful to my parents for encouraging and helping me to go away to college. I never would have grown into the independent, outgoing, travel-loving woman I am. However during college breaks, I was relieved and happy to return to my roots to recharge and relax with childhood friends.

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And like many teenagers who grow into adults, many of us returned to our roots upon college graduation, marriage, parenthood or just entering adulthood. Several of my classmates live in our hometown, while many more live in the area (myself included). Two of my nieces attend Clawson schools. It’s been fun to wander the halls with them, laughing at memories…..and, I’ll admit it, feeling a bit old! Life is a bit different from when I was in high school, yet, some things never change.

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I reminisce about the spats with other girls (silly in my adult mind), crushes on certain boys, secretly being giddy at reading Shakespeare in English or the immense courage it took me to run for president of Student Senate. I laugh at the goofy times my girlfriends and I had driving around the neighborhood, movie nights, the annual sleepover at my house, and showing up in hordes to cheer on our sports teams.

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School social functions were my favorite.

 Alas, not all of my childhood moments were filled with laughter and easygoing times. I was a bit shy, which brought its challenges. I was at times a gawky teen girl, emotional, not understanding why people picked on others or why I couldn’t be friends with everyone. I know that not everyone had a pleasant experience in high school like I did. I regret that my shyness didn’t allow me to stand up for kids who were picked on nor say hello more often to someone who looked like they were having a bad day.

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But ultimately this small town and my classmates instilled many great memories and qualities. I value friendship immensely, appreciate knowing and hanging out with neighbors, the warmth a hello or friendly smile brings. I learned the importance of standing up for others, whether you call that person ‘friend’ or not. I understand the value of setting positive examples for children and teens like so many adults did for me. Most importantly, I understand the bond that a little team spirit and a small town can create in people. I will always be grateful for the lessons this town provided.

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To come full circle to my classmate….I know many people from high school have stepped up to help her through this. I’ve always believed that the one amazing effect of cancer is the way it brings groups of people together, standing strong, helping those in need. On Sept. 10 from 2pm to 2am there will be a benefit in her honor at Norm’s Field of Dreams on Rochester Road in Clawson. Raffles, auctions, live music, food, drinks, lots of fun. I’m sure lots of reminiscing. All for a wonderful cause.

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