When I stepped out onto Legion Field at Morgan County High School eight years ago for the 2006 graduation ceremony, I think that it might have been the first time I had ever set foot on the slightly-curved surface of the Dogs’ home turf. By now, it shouldn’t be a surprise to any of you that I had never stood directly on the field before then, in uniform or otherwise. In fact, I’ve spent considerably more time at Morgan County High School football in the past two years than I did during my four years as a high school student. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one in my graduating class that hadn’t been all the way down onto the field before then.

But that’s the great thing about graduation: it brings all of the graduating members of a class – no matter how diverse it might be – together into one group, usually for the first time. Before the final graduation ceremony, there’s a great chance that the seniors themselves have never had a chance to stand together as a whole in their entire 13-year public school career. The athletes, art students, band members, small cliques, and outsiders are tied together with the same grateful sentiment on that night that high school – is over.

Almost all of the kids on that field will be happy that night. Happy that they will be moving on to another chapter of their life. Happy that they won’t have to get up in the morning for their first period science class again. Or just happy that they got invited to the big graduation party that night. I didn’t know it at the time that I was standing on the field all of those years ago, but I was moving on from what was one of the easiest times in my life. I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to have all of the friends that I had ever known right there beside me each and every day. Looking back, in fact, that was the biggest unexpected loss that I felt after high school.

Without being forced together by the compulsion of the public school system, we had to make plans to get together. Plans! When just a few weeks ago hanging out after school was just a natural extension of being close together throughout the day. After that summer, getting together became less and less frequent. My advice to both graduating seniors and rising seniors, thus, is to enjoy the time being close to your friends while it remains effortless.