Archived Story

A meaningful graduation

Published 9:01am Friday, May 25, 2012

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“I’m not feelin’ it,” Sydney Days said, as our PHS graduates assembled for their graduation ceremony last week.

“What is it that you’re not feeling, Sydney Days?” I asked.

“It doesn’t feel like graduation! I can’t believe that we are leaving PHS forever,” Days responded.

Just before they graduate, Alexis Lang and Xavier Lacey take time for one last PHS senior photo opportunity. (contributed)

Before I returned to my seat, I noticed a text from fellow teacher Keri Ross, “Congrats on your graduating senior. I hope you will be ‘mom’ tonight and not Mrs. Nolen.”

I texted back, “I will be both — as always.”

I struggled over whether I should sit with the teachers or with my family for this graduation.  Experiencing the graduation of my own children’s classes from Pelham High School marks time more deeply for me.

I began to know many of these children long before they knew me. I was a mom who put the sprinkles on their cupcakes at parties and tied their shoes on elementary school field trips.  For many of them, I became one of the teachers who read their stories, celebrated their triumphs and encouraged their creativity.

When my own children graduate, we celebrate that achievement as a family, but graduation matters to teachers also. A last chance to be seated in ceremony with students is important.

Contrary to her disbelief, Sydney Days and her Pelham High School class of 2012 classmates did graduate on Tuesday, May 22. Callie Roney delivered her final solo performance as a PHS singer with an amazing rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Justin Forehand gave his president of the senior class speech. He was matter-of-fact, thought-provoking and more serious and reflective than ever before. Drawing on conversations with coach Brett Burnett, Forehand encouraged his classmates to really live — and not just exist.

Valedictorian Sunny Chang spoke eloquently remembering what united her class and looked toward the future by asking her classmates to consider Adlai Stevenson’s words, “It is not the years in your life, but the life in your years that count in the long run.”

Ultimately, I sat with my teaching family. I spent time with my own family after the ceremony. To be both mom and Mrs. Nolen, I had to be with my son — and my students. And I was feeling that graduation. The class of 2012 has left PHS, but we will remember this class — and we hope they will remember Pelham High School fondly.


Connie Nolen can be reached by email at

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