Thursday, February 09, 2012

Getting Back to My Roots

Sometimes it's good to go back home. I don't really have a place to call home since I lived in three states and went to about 149 schools as a kid. The one place I can call home is Cromwell, Okla. (Population: 500 plus three coon dogs and a cat named "Tripod").

Cromwell is home to my alma mater Butner High School. I moved there in 1981, right at the beginning of my freshman year in high school. It was there I became the rock star that I am today. It was also there where I learned to give swirlies to freshmen. (Editor's note: No, he didn't).

Butner school has been around for years. Actually Butner school today is a result of a consolidation of Butner, Cromwell and Execelsior schools. Many of my relatives are graduates of one of those schools, including both of my maternal grandparents, who are proud graduates of Execelsior High School. The name Butner was retained because the good folks of that community wouldn't join with the others unless it was still called Butner, or so I hear.

The first graduating class of the consolidated Butner High School was in 1962.
Since then, the old Butner school building and Execelsior school building are shells. All that is left is a slab of foundation or an archway that used to lead to doors of education for plenty of farm kids in rural Oklahoma.

And if something doesn't change, that could be the same fate for today's Butner schools.

It's hard to imagine today in the suburbs of North Texas that a school could remain unchanged for 30 years. In growing suburban towns, schools are being built more often that seventh graders change their underwear.

Not so much for Butner schools.

I had the privilege last week to go back to Butner High School. It was the first time I had set foot in those hallowed halls for quite some time. The auditorium looked exactly the same as it did when I sang there in my senior talent show. It hasn't even changed much since my grandfather played basketball on that floor when he was in high school during The Great Depression.

But some things have changed.

There is a new elementary school wing that has been added on since I left. And there's the new vocational agriculture building that sits where Mrs. Scott's house used to be. And a library building that is almost finished but not quite.

Another thing that has changed is the student population.

I graduated at the top of my class in 1985. I was No. 1 out of 38 graduating seniors that year. Actually I was tied for the top spot with Scott Roper. I probably would have had the honor outright but I made a C in Mr. Moneypenny's class. Who knew all that homework would be important?

Now the senior class is about 12 or 15 kids. There's still plenty of people in the little farming communities around Butner, but many of them now choose to go to other schools because of one thing or another. The new administration at Butner wants to change that.

To get that started, the administrators at Butner schools invited the alumni back to see the school and encourage the students there.

About 70 or so BHS alumni showed up and walked across the old stage with signs telling current students how many of us turned out to be successes. My sign said "Rodney Hays, Class of 1985, Writer, Photographer and Rock Star."

I don't know if we encouraged them or not, but the auditorium was rocking that day and I'm glad I went.

It's hard for high school students to find a glimmer of hope in today's world. Sometime when you watch the news or check your Twitter feed, all you get is gloom and doom. But there is hope because the future is what you make it.

I was proud of all of the graduates who came back. We had teachers, farmers, orthodontists, oil field workers, bankers, managers, business people, millionaires, writers, musicians, singers and all-round rock stars like me. Graduates from Butner go on to do a great many things.

Some of their success came from things they learned down those halls at Butner High School. But much more of their success came from a simple belief that I can do what I set my mind to do. It doesn't always seem that way, but it's true.

If I could give the students at Butner High School a little advice it would be this: Your circumstances in life are determined by the things that happened yesterday. The thoughts and focus of today is what will determine your future. Go out in this great big world and wring every drop of life out of it. Enjoy it. Choose happiness. Follow your passions. And don't get a C in Mr. Moneypenny's class.

Thanks, Butner High School, for all you gave to me. I met my wife there. I have a lot of good friends and memories from there. And I think you may have even helped me achieve my rock star status.

I hope to visit again real soon and next time I promise not to give a swirly to any freshmen.

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