50 YEAR CLASS REUNION SPEECH
By: Charles Bendy Davis
Dear Distinguished Guests, Teachers , Audience, My Dear and Wonderful Classmates:
I remember another night like this one and it doesn’t seem like it was too long ago, when I was standing in the gym/auditorium, during our high school graduation. It was the year 1967, when Mr. N.L. Archie was our Principal. The High School Band was playing, and we were all full of life, hope and anticipation. At that point we had completed the requirements for graduation after several years of studies in this dear place; where we were molded very carefully by our teachers, our parents and our peers.
My friends, that night we were far from thinking that 50 years later we would be reunited again to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of our high School graduation, and that 15 of our classmates would no longer be with us. We are here to celebrate our common history, knowing that in the last 50 years, our decisions, beliefs, talents and personalities were shaped, colored and impacted by the values we learned and by our experiences and interactions with our teachers and friends. These influences are part of what we are today, and those of you who decided to attend this reunion are here to honor and acknowledge the importance those school years have had in our lives.
Many of us, the lucky ones I might add, had been studying here since kindergarten and this was the only place we knew. The school was our second home: a comfortable space where we could be ourselves in the company of others like us, and absorb like sponges all the information that directly or indirectly was coming our way. On our graduation night was the culmination of the first stage of our lives and represented an important step into adulthood.
Here at Booker T. Washington, We received a great comprehensive education in the basics, the Christian faith, the sciences, humanities and the arts. Our exposure to Music and Arts was present since the early years. So much so, that when I entered the school in the 3rd grade, Mrs. Artye Franklin, was one of the main motivators in the many beautiful artistic musical presentations that the Classes participated in and performed over the years.
Like her, there were several other legendary teachers, like Mrs. Phelps, Mrs. Maudester Hicks, Mrs. Lucille Bradley, Mrs. Willa Ruby Johnson, Mrs. Cannon, and the list goes on and on. Our teachers always had to wear several different hats: teacher, father, mother, friend, counselor, and disciplinarian, according to whatever the situation called for.
How can we forget the influence that teachers like Mrs. McPherson, Mrs. Charlene Williams, Mr. Elber Gipson, Mr. McKinley Pickens, Mrs. Theresa Curry and others? I could go on and on but we listed most of them on our class website. 50 years may have gone by, but we can still re-live the reverence of assemblies and the silence of the final exams. We can still hear the noise and laughter of children at recess, and can almost see the hustle and bustle of the start, the end, and change of classes. We can hear the voices of our teachers prompting us to listen, and we can still picture the classrooms, and halls that were silent witnesses to our growth and transformation from year to year. Our academic, spiritual, artistic and emotional needs were met with the different subject matters and activities, and the time we spent here left us very well prepared for the next step of our education and of our lives.
Now, I need to mention that even though we were so focused on studying, it did not mean that we did not have fun. Children and teenagers are always rambunctious, mischievous, risk takers and accident prone, and we had a good share of all of the above. The trips to the principal’s office were not frequent nor repetitive for several of us ….. But I guess that was also part of the learning experience.
Ok, 50 years later, I recall my first day of class in the 3rd grade, when the school and all the people around me were new, I was feeling a little scared and intimidated when all of a sudden, I turn my head and noticed the smiling face of Norma Jean Shields (Williams), looking at me with curiosity, probably wondering how to make me feel better. Well, the rest is history. Since that day we were and continue to be best friends. I adore her very much and there is no other like her.
Now as a class, we had many funny, awkward and memorable moments. Actually too many to mention, but I am sure that whenever you think and reflect upon the time we spent within, it brings a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.
My friends, in 1967 we walked the halls, and classrooms as students for the last time, and we said good bye to each other, our teachers, our mentors and to our sheltered life. We graduated and went on to work in different fields, trades and professions, which included various types of businesses administrations, economies and Insurance. We became doctors, teachers, dentists and ministers. We have professionals in English, Accounting, Education, Nursing etc. Many of us have retired now. Our school was also well known for its Athletes that it graduated. Many of our athletes went on to meet the high demand for jobs in the Business world. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Class of 1967 has been around, and has left its mark in the world. Champions were born at Booker T. Washington High School.
We formed our families and many of us are grandparents now, and somehow, somewhere between kindergarten and our Senior year, something beautiful happened to us, and, we didn’t realized it much at the time, but in those early years we were creating a very strong and most precious bond called FRIENDSHIP: A relationship so special that it doesn’t matter how many years or decades passed without seeing each other, because the moment we establish contact or reunite, it is almost like being in school all over again and the joy and camaraderie are always there. There are many good lifelong friends within our group and this friendship is a source of happiness, good times, companionship, empathy, consolation and advice.
FRIENDSHIP? This term is so difficult to define so I have picked up a quote from a famous person in order to try to understand it a little better. The Great Late Martin Luther King said: “In the end, you will not hear the words of your enemies, but the silence of your friends” So, friendship is PRUDENT, DOESN’T HURT OTHERS AND IT’S BASED IN THE TRUTH, NOT IN DAMAGING GOSSIP.
Although Friendship means different things to different people, it always fills your heart with pleasure and makes us feel connected, and after 50 years, we are all able to feel each other’s joys and sorrows. We are like a big beautiful tree full of leaves from which life germinated out of the seed of Destiny, who put us together in the same class, and that grew and nourished us over many years by the times we spent together, by our common experiences, and by the love that unquestionably existed within our group. Every one of us is a leaf that contributes to the beauty and the life of this tree, which by now is solid and indestructible. Even though some of the leaves have already fallen, these fallen leaves continue to fertilize the soil in which this tree grows and stands tall, and is a testimony to the union of the Class of 1967.
My dear friends, 50 years ago we danced together, we played together and we celebrated our coming of age and our graduation together. Today we are still dancing, playing and celebrating together. Let’s continue to do this and rejoice in each other’s company, let’s keep feeding, grooming and protecting the friendship that was born inside the classroom more than 50 years ago, and especially, let’s keep being ambassadors of the values and principles we learned in this Institution.
There is still a lot to be done here in our country and in the world. Even though we cannot solve all of the world’s problems, CHANGE always starts with an individual. Now that I am a grandfather, I have learned the potential that children have to become great people.
My friends, we have had the privilege of living in an unprecedented time: We saw the beginning of the television era, we have witnessed the landing on the Moon and the first steps in the exploration of Space. We were here when the Pill became available with the sexual and social revolution it produced: all of a sudden women were able to plan their families and they flocked to the universities and the workplace, emphasizing their demand for equal rights and equal pay. My grandmother’s life was very different than the life our children are able to have. We have seen unbelievable advances in Medicine and Science, and lately we are living and enjoying the Technological Era with the Internet and the whole revolution of the social Media and electronic communications that have made the miles betwen everywhere disappear with the touch of a button.
We are sort of the link between how things were in the past and how they are now, and this puts us in a unique position to be able to share with the younger generations, our life experiences, the knowledge, and the wisdom that we have accumulated during these 50 years so that it will not be lost. You see my friends, We are not supposed to die with our music still inside us, because our words, our advice and our knowledge may be just what somebody needs to keep going, to get a breakthrough or just to feel human! Remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition, to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived: This is to have succeeded!”
So, my dear friends, while we still have the current of life flowing through us, let’s rise to the challenge presented to us by the times we are living in. "DO ALL YOU CAN, WITH WHAT YOU HAVE, IN THE TIME YOU HAVE, IN THE PLACE YOU ARE."
THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF SPEAKING TO YOU TONIGHT.