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To the Class of 2020 from the Class of 1982

Congratulations to the Class of 2020!  That is a huge accomplishment and one of many milestones you will see in your life.  Several of the friendships you forged in school, both with fellow students and even a few teachers/staff members, will continue to grow while others may not.  It’s part of life.  You will experience change in the days, months, and years to come.  You will even cause these same changes in some instances.  Just know the world is out there waiting for you.  Chase your dreams.  Who knows, you many actually catch them.  Find something you are passionate about and do it.  Dreams and passions can change.  Don’t be afraid to follow a new path if that is what is best for you.  Good luck in your endeavors.

The Class of 2020 has experienced a year like few classes before them.  I do know during periods when our country was involved in war several young men left school early to enter the military and missed part of their Senior year.  To those who did, thank you for your service to our country.  Other individuals may have missed part of their Senior year due to illness.  However, the entire Class of 2020 and those classes following them have been affected.  Teachers and administrators as well.  The Covid-19 pandemic has changed daily life for all of us.  

Being a former student athlete, and now a parent, it broke my heart to see these student athletes lose their Senior season of baseball, softball, track, golf, soccer, and any other school activities they were involved in.  I hate it for the band and chorus students who missed their final concert.  Those who were going to be in one last school play I feel for you as well.  So many will miss out on other activities, such as Prom, too. All miss the daily interaction with their friends.  

Now the final blow to this class.  Graduation and the ceremonies leading up to it, will not be what it has been for decades thanks to this pandemic and our social distancing rules.  I understand the reason for changes to be made but also feel there has to be a way to make this happen.  Postpone the actual ceremony for a month or two.  If the situation has not improved, or the risk is still greater than the reward, then make the tough call and go to the backup plan.  It is a no win situation I know.  It just seems to me it is worth the effort to at least give it another four to six weeks before making the final call.  I’m sure some kids would not be able to attend their graduation if it was pushed into late July but I feel the majority could.   For those kids who know they could not make it, go ahead and have a ceremony online for that group.  They are worth it.  They are all worth the extra effort to make something special out of this tragic situation.

My graduation from Oak Ridge High School was a big thing in my family.  While both of my parents graduated from there, I am the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family, so I was the first one to graduate high school.  Another one of those milestones I spoke of earlier.  I am very proud to be an Oak Ridge High School alum.  I remember my graduation day and the excitement it brought.  I still have the watch my grandparents let me pick out from the jewelry store in Grove Center.  I remember all the photos with both my family and my friends.  I will always cherish these memories. 

With that said, over 35 years later, I remember so much more about my Senior year than just the day I walked across the stage and these Seniors will, too.  I remember being part of a football team that won back to back State Championships and was nationally ranked both years.  I remember my almost daily lunches with one of my best friends, Bart Brinkman.  We never knew where we would end up Monday thru Thursday at noon.  We had tough choices between Snow White, The Village, Danvers, Edwards, Jefferson Drug Store, and numerous fast food places.  Sometimes we would just run by his house and eat.  Fridays were a different story.  During football season, you could find us at Shoney’s.  We would always see two of the nicest people in town, Dr. Bill and Jean Gick.  Their son, Jeff, was in our class and a teammate.  No matter how much we begged our waitress not to do it, our bill would always wind up in their hands and they paid for our pregame meal.  I can still see their smiles as I’m writing this.  I miss them.  Federal Bake Shop was a popular stop for us, too!

I remember making memories with so many others in my class.  Louis Kittrell and I go all the way back to Willow Brook Elementary School.  He is the definition of a true best friend.  He and his wife, Kim, have been there for my family and I more times than I can count.  I remember sledding using a ski rope behind Ted Heiskell’s dad’s huge Dodge Ram Charger 4×4.  I remember going on dates to Big Ed’s pizza and then next door to the Ridge Theater for a movie.  There was the time my girlfriend (who I won’t name to protect the innocent,,,lol)  and I may have left a big message in toilet paper in the side yard of Brad Jenkins’ house while his parents were sitting in the living room.  We could see them easily through the picture window on the front of their house.  I still can’t believe they didn’t see us rolling under the bottom branches of the huge pine tree beside their driveway when we heard Brad’s Opal GT turn onto their road.  He never saw us either but It was all we could do not to laugh out loud while he stood there and read it to his mom and then correctly accused me of being the culprit.  That’s ok.  He got me back a few weeks later.  Ted, Brad, and I, along with our classmate and friend, Anthony MIller became roommates at UT Chattanooga.  We would relive some of our high school days by quoting Coach Emory Hale or even better, Coach Paul Brewster.  Many former Wildcats can imagine some of those quotes.  I had a Vocational Broadcasting class at Oak Ridge.  That class helped fuel my love of music and helped lead me to a real radio job many years later.  I could go on and on.  My days at Oak Ridge High School were mostly fun while being very educational too.    

I love the friends I made in school, the teachers and coaches who helped make me the person I am today, and especially the memories I made as a part of the ORHS Class of 82.  To the class of 2020, wherever you graduate from, please know we realize your class is special.  I challenge you to focus on all the good things that were part of this past year.  I pray they outweigh the bad.  The memories you made before this social distancing started should be cherished.  Remember how your community and school went out of their way to make this time special for some of you as well.  You will look back on this one day and remember the positive stuff more than the negative.  

To the ORHS Class of 1982….thank you for the memories and the life long bond we have formed.  We are truly a family.  We celebrate each other’s accomplishments and mourn each other’s losses.  I truly pray the classes graduating today can form the type of bond we have.  God Bless you all.

Congratulations graduates!

Mike Kelly
ORHS ’82
Roll Wildcats Roll

“And we pray… that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God…” Colossians 1:10

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