Special kids walk graduation stage Saturday


I’ve sat through about 50 graduations in my lifetime.
They always seem to have me thinking about paths and choices. I’m a people watcher. It’s one of my favorite things to do when I’m in bigger cities. Sometimes it’s just a little dangerous, but I think I do it against the backdrop of my own life.
I look at the homeless and wonder just how far my life was from becoming one of them. It’s scary to me how close it probably was.
Graduations make me rethink those complexities of life and what these kids are up against. This is the first class to enter high school during the pandemic. Co-Principal Patrick Lamb said these graduates earned more than $400,000 combined in scholarships. Clearly the pandemic didn’t hurt them too terribly, but I’m not sure we’ve even seen the real culmination of that knee-jerk reaction.
As I watch seniors, children of friends of mine, go across the graduation stage Saturday morning at Fort Madison High School, I stood in the back of the room or hid behind bleachers trying to get great angles for photos. I don’t like going to graduations. In the midst of the work, my mind is on two things – Kelsey, and a visceral rooting for these kids. I’m honestly rooting for each one of them to not only be successful, but wildly successful.
I don’t listen intently to the speeches of the adults. Been there and done that. However, board member Mio Santiago made me laugh when he said the audience was getting a sort of time warp with him standing there right after his son Oliver gave the class president’s address.
“This is what you have to look forward to son. Sorry.”
That’s funny.
Oliver’s one of those special kids that I’ve had a chance to get to know through work at FMHS. We talk cameras occasionally, but he’s an outgoing, fun kid and I root for him. This is one of those kids that we could be hearing more about on a grand scale.
But I’m sure there are many kids there that can fit that mold. We just saw Thomas Hoback inducted into the FMHS Hall of Honor. This guy quietly, and I know it was quietly because I’d never heard of him prior to last week, became a railroad economy expert right under our noses.
Central Lee just honored Jerry Junkins into their Hall of Fame. Junkins was CEO of Texas Instruments. It bothers me a bit thinking about how many people probably didn’t know that.
What’s in that bevy of Black and Crimson mortarboards? It really is mind boggling. Singers? State champions, corporate owners, mayors, governors…
Most, not all, but most of my interactions are with athletes, and that probably needs to change. That’s no shade on those kids, but it’s a little of my background and going to sporting events is one of my favorite things to do.
But this school has kids that can sing and dance, can build things, fix cars, make meals, and graduate with 4.6 GPAs?
I watched with a smile as Ike Thacher crossed the stage. Ike was probably one of the most athletic kids I’ve come across in my time covering FMHS. But that’s not why I was happy to see him cross.
The last time we spoke, I asked him if he was going to continue with sports in college and he shrugged the innocent way he does and said no. He wanted to go into business. He was already doing some things and generating a profit. It was refreshing. We shared a hug and I told him it was a pleasure watching his success on wrestling mats and football fields.
Teague Smith is another one of those kids that not only breathes Bloodhound, but has always set his sights on something just a bit more and we will watch him, as well.
I listen to the cheers the kids get to see if I’m missing something. And, as usual, I am. It’s the same with the teachers. Taylor Stoddard gets as loud a cheer from the student body as anyone. But that Swingspan group can run with the big dogs and needs lots of bodies to do it.
I can’t help but think about the pressure these kids are under, too. I guess if I had a message it would be this. Value. Measure everything you give value to against the return on investment. Will you get the same value out of this choice or that choice, this friend or that friend, this job or that job, that you will be required to put in. Sometimes we know this answer in a matter of seconds. But I can honestly say it will always be based on your interaction with another person. Judge carefully and thoroughly and make the decision that is projected to have the greatest return. That only sparingly has anything to do with income, by the way. Getting in a car with someone who shouldn’t be driving is an easy call. Choosing this career path or that one is much more difficult. But again there’s no single moment where you shouldn’t be judging the value of that input against the return you can expect.
But for the rest of the summer work a little, play a lot, listen to your parents, make good decisions, and breathe easy knowing you got it done. You did. But you're still on the uphill climb.
Go easy - and remember to remember. Keep coming up and talking to me when you see me. I always enjoy hearing a good story, too – But that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

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