This weekend I did something I never thought I’d do—I returned to my hometown and went to my high school’s Homecoming football game. I graduated 26 years ago, and never really wanted to return to my high school.
Even though I’d played in the band and played sports all through high school, I didn’t have any desire to return after I graduated. I was excited to go to college and move out of my hometown. I couldn’t wait for my next adventure.
But this past weekend, my youngest sister Debbie was inducted into our high school Athletic Hall of Honor. A star basketball player in both high school and college (as well as a high school tennis player and track and field athlete), the news that she was being inducted did not surprise me at all. So, my family and I made the trip to Minnesota for her induction.
I’m not sure the last time I actually was even in my high school. It’s been at least 20 years since I had been inside the school and since that time they have made a number of changes. But, as I walked around with my two children, there were still many things that had not changed.
I showed them the hallway where my locker used to be. We walked by my favorite high school teacher, Mr. Olson’s classroom where even though I didn’t really love science, he still gave me great suggestions for books he thought I would like and played his guitar to teach us about sound waves. We walked upstairs where all the English classes were and I told them about the classes I took and some of the other teachers I loved. Some of the teachers I had retired or moved on, but a number of them were still there. Or, they have children who are now teaching in the district.
Jack loved that my high school mascot was a Spartan. He thought that was really cool. I enjoyed showing my kids around and talking about what had changed—where I used to eat lunch is now the office space and an open area—and what has stayed the same.
During the Hall of Honor induction ceremony, my sister’s high school basketball coach talked about what a privilege it was to coach her and how lucky the district is to have her there as a teacher where she has taught middle school for the past 14 years.
As I watched my sister be announced on the football field during half-time, I listened to all her students scream her name. I heard the cheers from her students and her former students. I watched the influence she’s made on the community and it made me think about Macomb. I thought of what it means for young people to see their teacher being honored. And what it means for a community to have teachers so invested that they are still teaching there and are committed to the community.
Homecoming is important for many people. It is a way to honor our hometowns and our communities. It is a way to bring people together and reminisce. Yet, I am not saying that high school or homecoming is always perfect. Sometimes nostalgia can make us forget about real issues in our high school or communities. But I want our community to work to make our local schools, stores, restaurants, and streets a place that all community members can feel safe, comfortable and wanted.
At the Homecoming game, we watched as middle and high school students ran around and the team played. When I went to high school in the 1980s, my small Midwestern town did not have a great deal of racial diversity. But now, there was more racial diversity at that homecoming game then there had been in my entire elementary to high school experience. Students, teachers, and community members were hanging out, enjoying the game, or just enjoying being part of the experience.
I’ve always said where I grew up was similar to Macomb. I was closer to a larger city, but I still went to school with people I had known since Kindergarten (some that I still talk to). Going home, specifically back to my high school, made me think about what I want for my children and the children of our community.
I really love this community. I feel as though there is so much potential. But, we are living in some tense times. Although I’m not sure any of what is going on at the moment in our country is new, it is being heightened and brought to the forefront due to leadership and decisions that are being made at our local, state, and national levels. And, our community is changing. I want us to start to accept those changes in our communities.
I want my children to be able to walk the halls of their high school and have positive memories. I want them to remember teachers fondly, to get together with some of their high school friends when they come back to town. I want my children to see diversity and to be able to be not only tolerant of others, but understanding of others’ lives and choices. I want my children to have friends of different races, religious beliefs, abilities, genders, sexualities, and even political beliefs. I want all people to feel they can move to Macomb and the surrounding communities and feel accepted.
In the coming weeks, please start to think about our community. Think about the decisions you make when you criticize the students who are here or when you don’t make an effort to learn about the lives and histories of those around you. Be respectful of the people who have made homes in this community for decades and those who have recently chosen to make it their home. Think about what it means when you go to vote. Who do you want representing you and your community? I ask that you think about your choices and don’t make decisions out of fear, but make decisions based on how you want to embrace the changing community and all the ways in which diversity opens our lives to new experiences.
Rebekah Buchanan is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.