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The purple journey ends and a new adventure begins

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The ripples and waves rolled across the sea of excited purple. Caps bobbed up and down, while tassels drifted in front of eager faces. Feet shuffled around, preparing to take a new step in life. Smiles spread across the faces of many, and tears trickled down others. Flash photography captured the moment while memories flashed through our minds. The class of 2016 was graduating.

Roughly 12 years prior to this joyful day, we little tikes shyly stumbled into the seemingly grand world of elementary school. We can recall the soft growl of that yellow creature approaching to take us away, when Mom held on tight and gave one last kiss. Brand-new backpacks full of our parents’ hope and love rested on our tiny backs. We climbed into the beast, found a vacant seat, and nervously took in our surroundings. Bigger, older, kids talked and laughed together. They knew the routine, we didn’t. But through this daunting new world, we found each other.

Friendships soon sprouted in these shared moments — moments of awkwardness, fear, discomfort. These friends soon became cohesive units of fun energy. We experienced the school lunches, and soon learned not all school lunches are created equal. Yes, mozzarella-stick day was like payday. We became adventurers together on the wooden playground, running up and down, around and through, fast and slow. Boys avoided girls, and vice versa, on account of the dreaded cooties — yet despite this concern, some childhood romances flickered.  

Soon enough, those years came to an end. We were smarter, slightly taller, more confident, and still just beginning. Middle school was next.

Undoubtedly, the old and looming middle school intimidated us. As incoming sixth-graders, we were unfamiliar with lockers and changing classes at the bell. We were unaccustomed to the lingering dampness and irritation of a midday swim class. However, after several months we had settled in. So had the acne. Faces were pimpled, hair was greasy, and voices squeaked. A pungent odor constantly hung in the air — it smelt of stale locker-room and puberty. Three years in this building taught us the essentials: algebra, sewing, sawing, cooking, geology, how to sing or play a scale, etc. We had slowly worked our way up the ranks, had become the “big dogs,” but it was all too brief — we were moving on to the high school.

Oh to be freshmen, so eager, so ready, and still innocent. Upperclassmen walked the halls with an air of purpose and confidence we would not yet know. The amount of activities to join was somewhat overwhelming; the beauty of it was, you could do them all — well, if you didn’t value sleep. We freshmen settled in to this wonderful place that would be our partial home for the next four years.

Sophomore year came and, with it, more advanced classes for some. But for all, we were no longer the bottom of the “food-chain.” We were more familiar and more comfortable with this place. Biology projects gave some a taste of academic hardship and perseverance. Proper English grammar and punctuation was taught — comma splices were almost entirely eliminated from use.

Our class was slowly growing up and maturing. Getting your driving license was a way of trying to prove this, though in reality it garnered more fear than respect.

Suddenly, there we were — juniors. Upperclassmen. The lunch was open, the classes were harder, the classmates closer. We could feel the responsibility of the future waiting to sink into us, but it wouldn’t fully find us this year, no. That was the magic of junior year, we had similar experiences as the seniors, but with less stress. However, we would learn that this responsibility and pressure are what create the incredibly memorable and unique experience of senior year.

The experience of senior year was created in these times of adversity and stress. Writing papers into the early hours of the morning while crunching away on chips and salsa. Taking a math test with less than adequate preparation, and barely finishing as the bell rings. Discussing the college process while steam crackles off the sauna rocks. Fitting a quick yoga session in the lunch break before the big final. Battling it out on the course, field, track, or court for the last time.

We all had our own experiences, but the end result was the same: we became connected in our shared adversities — and with this connection lasting memories were made.

But before we would really have time to grasp it and hold on, it was slipping away. There we were at the end of a meaningful 12-year-long journey, a crowd of purple awaiting the destination: a piece of fancy paper with some important signatures on it. Family had made the trek too: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, sisters, brothers. They were all there to support us, though they had been with us the whole journey. The class of 2016 filed out into the arena as a graduating class for the first and last time.

Tassel on the right. Heartfelt and touching student speeches were given, the school principal gave some wise remarks and advice, and finally the diplomas were ready to be distributed. I made my way to the stage and couldn’t help but smile. My left hand grasped the diploma as I shook hands and walked to center stage. Tassel on the left; it was official. I waited in my seat for several minutes until everyone had received their diplomas. It was as if a collective sigh was let out then. We had graduated. We had made it. Hugs and congratulations were exchanged as the confetti slowly drifted down to us.

Our hearts, minds, and souls left from port, across the sea of purple, to the unknown future.

Cloquet High School graduate Lucas Tomhave was a Pine Journal intern last summer and remains an occasional contributor to the newspaper. He will attend Gustavus Adolphus College in the fall and we will miss him dearly.