Graduation, Loss, Futures At RLHS

I didn’t know Christopher Campos, but I wish I had after the sights I saw today.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
– M. Gandhi

Graduation is usually the best day of the year to be a school board member. After all the trials and tribulations that go on throughout the year graduation at Round Lake High School has been a welcome ending to the year. Last year I missed out when I had gotten tickets for the Indy 500 pretty early and it happened to fall on graduation day. Aside from that one I’ve been at every RLHS Graduation as a board member and spoke to the Class of 2007.

We had a full board at graduation this year so not wanting to clutter things with myself I just got both tables situated with three board members at each.  “Remember to smile, you’re about to be in a few hundred pictures that will be on someones mantle for the next thirty years or so” I said to our newest board member.  A few quick instructions and a repositioning of the one “line” to help the photographer out and I stood to the side to take it in while they presented.  And so it was, I didn’t think I would present any diplomas this year but that was fine by me, better for those who haven’t had the experience I had thought.

In the flurry that is board work at many times we forget many of the things that happen throughout the year. While I certainly remember when Chris passed away, I called for a moment of silence for him at our board meeting, I had forgotten he was a senior.  So after a rather nice and well paced graduation ceremony I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next when two students took to the center in front of the stage for something that wasn’t on the program.

It was then that RLHS Principal Kurt Sinclair reminded those present of Chris’ death in January and the two students sang a lovely song in his memory.  I was unable to hold back the tears almost immediately marking the memory of a student I wasn’t lucky enough to know but was taken from us much too soon.  It’s not right for kids to have to learn they’re not immortal at such a young age but the Class of 2009 learned that in January.

So as the song progressed Kurt got my attention and presented me with a sealed diploma and asked me to present it to his family.  As soon as it entered my hands I looked down at it and either one of my tears or one of Kurt’s had already hit the sleeve containing it.  I was filled with thoughts of my friend David Thomas who passed away this year.

I remember thinking how Dave was the first of my classmates I knew to die and how I felt old seeing one of my classmates, one of our most beloved classmates, in his casket.  Reverend Lisle Kauffman gave a stirring and wonderful eulogy reminding us that our tears and our grief are for ourselves and that Dave was in a far better place.  Dave was someone who simply attending RLHS was an achievement for him, let alone to graduate, let alone to become one of our most loved friends.  I told his mother at the funeral that we didn’t know it at the time but Dave taught us a lot about life and about ourselves.  He taught us about bravery and courage and every time the words “I was just thinking” left his lips we may have held back a laugh but what usually followed may be crazy, may be hair-brained, but it was always full of pure innocence.  Innocence you just don’t find much any more.

Then there was the loss of Bobby Weinger earlier this year in Afghanistan.  Bobby, a member of the Class of 2002, was killed in action and had another poignant service at Wauconda High School.  I remember standing in line looking at all the mementos of a life cut all too short to help preserve the freedoms we have.  I paused at his casket to pray and think of the words I would say to his father and family who were there.  When I got to his father, the tears again flowing down my face, I was barely able to speak.  I couldn’t put together what I wanted to say, what could I possibly say to assuage the grief of this family?  All I could do was thank them, thank them for the life they gave us.

So as I stood with this diploma for a boy I never knew, with the thoughts of my departed friend and a noble soldier in my head, I tried to pull myself together.  I didn’t have anything that I could possibly say.  I stopped by the table and picked three roses that were there for graduates and presented one to each of his family and then the diploma to them.  There were many tears as I presented the only diploma I presented today.

The song sung at the end was a moving tribute to Chris but the whole ceremony was really.  Mr. Sinclair’s speech was about the “two minutes” that make the difference in all our lives.  The Panther Voices sang “Finale B” from one of my absolute favorite musicals, Rent.  Jonathan Larson, the composer and  creator of Rent died at 36 the evening of the final dress rehearsal for Rent‘s off-Broadway opening.

If I had to pick just one song from Rent that I love the most (and that is incredibly hard) it would have to be “One Song Glory”:

One song


one song

before I go


one song to leave behind


one song

one last refrain


from the pretty boy front-man

who wasted opportunity

It’s a song that’s always stirred something in me because in many ways I see my life a lot like Roger’s — one of wasted opportunities and the search for the ever elusive one thing to be remembered by and one love to make it worth it. Most of the time I have my hands in too many pots to find that one thing so the fault is without a doubt completely mine.

Somehow after it all I feel completely unworthy of the opportunities that I’ve had and wasted amongst the man who never let his disability hold him back, another man who gave his life for his country and another man who had his life taken from him before he could even get those opportunities. So in that moment I held the diploma for someone whose life was cut way too short, the single drop of water on the cover, hoping that it was one of my opportunities that I was giving him instead of one of my tears.

As the song for Chris was sung the Class of 2009 joined in trying to give something to him as well.  They started collecting the roses they had just been given and left them on the table that held their diplomas in tribute to him.  As I reflect on this poignant day at RLHS, the ending to a very tragic year, I came to the words of Gandhi that I captioned above.

We never know for how long we are here so it is important to live our lives like tomorrow will be our last (also wonderfully reflected in “Another Day” from Rent).  Because of that it is imperitive for us to try to learn and pass on what we have learned as if we would be here forever.  That is the glory we can pass on to those who follow us, knowledge to be built on for the future and hopes for a better future for the generations to come.

Generations where a mental disability can be cured.

Generations where people don’t have to die to preserve freedom.

Generations where the young need not be taken from us.

It may be impossible, it may never happen, but we must do our best to try.  I think we owe it to Dave, Bobby and Chris to try.