The Girl Who Might Not Have Graduated

Ten years. That’s how long I’ve been covering graduation ceremonies for the Democrat.

Not a milestone of the same caliber as completing high school, but a milestone all the same.

For a decade, I’ve sat in the gymnasiums of Sullivan County listening to school administrators read off accolades. I’ve heard quotes from Mark Twain, Dr. Seuss, Eleanor Roosevelt.

I’ve listened to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance over and over and over again. I’ve sweat. I’ve baked. I’ve been caught with my camera in cloudbursts. I’ve woken up late and run pell mell into the midst of a crowd of seniors looking a little more like I belong in their lot than I probably should.
And still, I go back.

The paycheck helps. I’m not going to lie. But Friday night, even as sweat beaded on my forehead, even after my favorite camera lens chose the moment the seniors entered the Roscoe Central School gymnasium to malfunction, one of those gifts we get so rarely was dropped in my lap. Call it a gift of perception. A gift of memories, maybe. A gift of realization.

I remembered why, year after year, I get that giddy feeling in my stomach as I pack my camera bag and gear up for yet another graduation.

Because these kids aren’t just names and faces.

They’re OUR names and faces.

They’re the reason we choose small town over big city. They’re our great hope for Sullivan County’s future.
And they’re there, all clad in cap and gown, because of what we have put into them.

I put the credit for my lightbulb moment on one girl in particular, one grinning grad. Seven years ago, I met her as she recovered from a 30-foot fall off an old railroad bridge outside Roscoe. thirty feet at 10 years old. Her little bicycle had caught on the old wood of the bridge, and she’d lost control. She’d gone over. She’d broken, among other things, her neck. Volunteers from local emergency crews brought her up from the ravine.

Her survival was a miracle, her recovery long.

And when I wrote about her, a friendship struck up between our two families. Like many of the miracle kids of Sullivan County who I’ve written about over the years, I’ve followed her progress. Because they are ours.
And Friday night, before I got to work and began taking photographs and scribbling down notes, I wrapped Kerry Horton in my arms and congratulated her.

She is why I love these ceremonies. She is why I keep coming back after 10 years.

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  1. I sometimes wonder what we would have done that warm June 22nd evening if things had turned out differently for us, 7 years earlier on June 21, 2005. Would we have had the strength to go and support the rest of the class? Would it have been to much to bear to watch her friends walk steps she never would? I thank God and my Father that I never had to know the answer to those questions. I thank God and my Father that I watched my daughter, giddy with excitement, WALK that night with her class. Walk towards her future that almost wasn't. Thank you Jeanne for recognizing what our miracle was in that warm gymnasium on June 22nd. We love you.

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