Three seemingly unrelated stories in (last) Friday’s edition of the Jacksonville Daily Progress elicited a flood of emotions in me.
A front-page story about a 10 year olds relief efforts for the victims of the Moore, OK, tornado tragedy, the reflections of a graduating senior on the editorial page, and an obituary.
I graduated from Jack-sonville High School 32 years ago (Wow!) and the speaker at the graduating ceremonies was a man named Jack Jackson, an executive for American Airlines (the company I now work for).
He talked about how all your life you’re going to hear about these mythical people called “They,” as in “They can send a man to the moon, but They can’t …” fill in the blank. Or, “I don’t know why They don’t just” … fill in the blank.
He built this theme up and then stated “guess what, you just became ‘They.’” Even as a kid with nothing more on my mind than what I was going to do that night, I remember thinking “Oh shoot (or words to that effect), he’s right. I am now ‘They.’ What does that mean?"
He went on to explain how “They” are the people who invent things, discover new medicines, are first responders, soldiers giving their lives in foreign lands, the guy who fixes your potty when it’s backed up, and the folks who pick up your trash.
In short, “They” are the people who make a difference and without whom our lives wouldn’t exist as they do. “Some of you,” he said, will become ‘They.’ Some of you never will. You’ll only talk about “They.”
I’m still trying to figure out exactly what “They” means for me in my life. Friday’s paper offered some insight.
First, young Ruby Janet Castillo, giving her time and energy for the tornado victims.
Second, Jake Tinsley offering gratitude for those who have positively affected his life as he graduates high school.
And finally, the obituary; Paula Kay Bagley. Just the mention of her name creates memories and images for me.
Foremost among those is a picture from the 1981 Jacksonville High School Annual. A skinny white kid needing a haircut and wearing a hideous orange corduroy leisure suit (me), standing arm in arm with a pretty young black girl (Paula Kay).
We were the “Senior Class Favorites.” I was proud of that honor, and so was Paula Kay.
It meant more than “most handsome, athletic, likely to succeed, etc.” Even more than “most popular,” which often harbors negative connotations and ulterior motives (witness our elected officials).
Class favorite represented who the kids (black, white, Hispanic, etc) liked the most. Who they thought had their back regardless of the circumstances.
Paula Kay truly deserved this honor and her post high school life proved it. A life dedicated to teaching special needs children and those most vulnerable and at risk in our society. Post graduate degree, published author, curriculum designer, recipient of many honors and awards, Paula Kay achieved so much.
I never saw her without a smile on her face, and even now, with tears welling in my eyes, she brings a smile to mine.
Paula Kay Bagley … You are “They.”