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Graduation coverage means something at The Herald-Mail

July 10, 2010|By BILL KOHLER
  • Bill Kohler, Herald-Mail Tri-State editor
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Years ago, a reporter bellowed to me, "Why do we have to cover graduations? These people mean nothing to me."

After I scooped my jawbone off the floor, I reminded she-who-must-not-be-named (this was before I worked at The Herald-Mail) that the importance of covering high school graduations went beyond the obvious.

I explained that this was a major milestone in the lives of many, many people -- students, parents, teachers, coaches, administrators.

Our job as journalists includes many responsibilities, but one of its most important is chronicling the history of the communities that we cover.

Many smaller communities -- and Washington County and our surrounding towns in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are no exception -- have their high schools at their centers. The gyms are used for dances, indoor guard shows and health fairs, the auditoriums are used for dance recitals and community concerts, and the cafeterias are used for pancake breakfasts and chicken dinners.

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We rally around our sports teams -- in good times and bad -- and follow them to regionals, districts and states.

Graduations are the culmination of 13 years of learning, growing and developing for these people who will become the future of our towns, states and country.

I told the young reporter (actually, I was her senior by only a few years) that people looked to their local paper to be on the scene during major events at public schools, whether the event was a school board meeting to discuss budget cuts or the awarding of diplomas to the 108 graduates of Clear Spring High School.

We take graduation coverage seriously at The Herald-Mail. While doing some research for this column, I noted that we covered 24 high school graduations this spring with a reporter and a photographer. That's a lot of hours and newsprint devoted to our public schools in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and our private schools in Washington County.

I also added up the number of graduates included in those 24 graduations and it's mind-boggling. Care to take a guess?

Come on ... no peeking.

2,000?

1,500?

Nope.

It's 4,822.

And one more thing that struck me this spring when I read some of the commencement stories was they provided readers with something we could all use a little more of -- hope.

With all of the bad news locally, nationally and around the globe, these stories bubbled over with tales of kids-turned-adults about to start a new life.

Going to college to study pre-med.

Preparing to enter the Naval Academy.

Heading off to a culinary arts academy.

Some shared their dreams of wanting to travel the world or even joining the Peace Corps after college. Wow.

Some weren't sure what they would do now except look for work, but smiled with confidence and wonder. Some practically sizzled with the excitement of having their whole adult lives in front of them.

I felt a connection with those kids because I was there once. Nearly all of us were there once. I didn't know any of those kids except a few in Waynesboro, but they meant something to me because I had the same dreams and aspirations, and because they are our kids -- whether from Berkeley Springs, Hagerstown, Smithsburg or Greencastle.

If you, the readers, also felt a connection to some of these graduates through the stories we told by photo, video and words, then the hours and newsprint were well worth it, don't you think?

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7281 or by e-mail at billk@herald-mail.com.

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