A few words of wisdom before you go

Hammonton High School Class of 2021. (THG/Betsey Karl)

I checked all the devices I own and the mailboxes of both The Gazette and home (twice!) and I still haven’t received an invitation to be the guest speaker at my Hammonton High School (HHS) alma mater this year. It’s a shame because I had a good theme. Well. As I prefer not to waste it, here is the speech I would have given:

President Mento, Superintendent Chieco, teachers, parents and members of the Hammonton High School Class of 2022: Can I give you some words of wisdom before we go?

Most of you have a directory. I own a business that is still largely focused on the words on the printed page, although we have also grown strongly in the digital realm. I’m glad to see that HHS graduates still receive a yearbook at the end of their senior year.

Here’s my suggestion for you, and while it sounds absolutely old fashioned, I hope you do. Take this yearbook and ask as many people you know, especially your closest friends, to write down their words of wisdom.

The Gazette is fortunate to have an archive that includes nearly every yearbook from HHS and St. Joseph’s High School (and St. Joseph’s Academy). This archive includes my own yearbook from my senior year of 1991.

I’ve had it for over 30 years, and I can tell you this: I’m glad I shopped around and had my yearbook signed.

When I say “sign my directory”, of course, I am not just talking about a signature. Some people wrote letter-length entries that crossed two of the large pages of the book. They signed in black ink, red ink and even purple ink and reading them has always been a pleasure. It takes me back to that time when we weren’t kids anymore but weren’t quite adults yet either.

Flipping through the pages of this old yearbook from my senior year in 1991, I found some words of wisdom from my classmates, including:

• “You’re a great person, a bit arrogant, but hey, nobody’s perfect.”

• “I have to remember all those intense discussions in the main class.”

• “Well, believe it or not, I’m happy with how you turned out. Did I just compliment you? Oh no!”

• “It is time that we uproot our roots and spread them in different directions.

• “I won’t say goodbye. See you later.

And of course, one of my favorites:

• “Follow the heart because the mind guesses.”

I will keep to myself who wrote me what at the time. But I promise you, if you have people signing your yearbook now, decades later, you’ll be happy to have those memories on your shelf, easily accessible every time you read them.

One day your kids will read them too, and maybe they’ll fool you about what they’re reading, whether it’s handwritten notes from your fellow graduates or something in the yearbook itself. I know we joked about it with our parents when we were young. It’s kind of a rite of passage.

So before you go, if you haven’t already, make sure your friends write down their words of wisdom in your yearbooks. Many years from now, when you read them from the distance of time and years of life, the emotions these words will draw to you will be deep. Whether they bring laughs or tears, or both, you’ll feel lucky to be able to read them.

These words are a bridge between where you are now and where you will be, whenever you are there. And since it’s a directory, you never have to worry about it being deleted. Unless you lose it. Or damage it. But you all seem like responsible people, so that probably won’t happen.

The words have such meaning, especially on the printed page. Take it from me. There’s a certain magic to reading your classmates’ thoughts written just before you graduate from high school, especially when you read them decades later. Their words have wisdom for them. Be sure to take the time to collect these words before heading out into the world.

Congratulations to the Hammonton High School Class of 2022.

Gabriel J. Donio is the editor of The Hammonton Gazette.

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