The Last Day of School

As my years have gone by as a news photographer, I have become more and more comfortable in my community, and I believe I am pretty well known. I might even say that I am closer to my town and its people than most news photographers.

One thing that kind of amazes me in recent years is that I am now photographing the children of the people I photographed when I first came here. More and more often people tell me, “You took my picture when I was in school.”

Last night was graduation at Latta High School and Ada High School, schools which our newspaper covers extensively. Years ago, graduations weren’t all that significant to me, but lately I’ve been feeling them. Another group of kids, who I photographed playing ball and getting awards and growing up, is done with all that. I photographed them as they cheered in the cold for the football team, as they let their tears fall when they got a runner-up trophy at the end of the season, as they filled their small-town gyms with a deafening roar when a three-pointer fell at the buzzer. These things mattered to them, and they mattered to me. I know that sounds a little lame, but I’m 50, so I’ve earned some get-out-of-lame-free points.

Demarques Harris, Brylen Carpenter, Paisley Fancher and Juleah Martinez bid farewell to Ada Early Childhood Center as the 2014 school year comes to an end. My friend Loretta, a teacher at the school, organized this photo op for me. She said it was "like herding cats."
Demarques Harris, Brylen Carpenter, Paisley Fancher and Juleah Martinez bid farewell to Ada Early Childhood Center as the 2014 school year comes to an end. My friend Loretta, a teacher at the school, organized this photo op for me. She said it was “like herding cats.”

In many ways I feel vastly more connected to the kids I cover than to the kids with whom I attended school.

In searching my journal, I found I didn’t write much when I graduated from high school. My friends and I had serious senioritis, so I wasn’t writing a lot. But as far as writing about the end of the school year goes, tenth grade was probably the most interesting…

Thursday, May 31, 1979...

I can’t believe it’s finally here. It is the Last Day of the Last Final Week. {Note caps in the original, like they were proper names.} Three hours to go and I will be emancipated. I need to get out of this madhouse.

That golden moment is approaching. The Last Minute of the Last Day in the Last Week! Just 60 seconds and I’ll be…

This is a scan from my journal from the last day of tenth grade.
This is a scan from my journal from the last day of tenth grade.
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7 Comments

  1. I remember feeling similarly to your latter sentiments near the end of most of my school years. As a younger boy it was because Summer Vacation was the Time Of My Life — swimming, biking, etc., but in high school, I remember feeling school was like a prison sentence and summer was like early release from prison. My graduation was permission to forget it all.

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  2. This might veer slightly off topic, but I’ve been to two commencement ceremonies recently, at Southern Arkansas University and Magnolia High School, and shot both (one in a more or less unofficial capacity). At SAU, I used my Nikkor 35mm f/1.8, as the lighting situation was typically bad (gym, florescent bulbs, etc.). I saw lots of people using either Nikons or Canon Rebels and they all used their on-board flashes. Likewise at the MHS graduation, those with digital SLR cameras all used flash, including the guy with the complicated gear who was obviously shooting “official” school portraits. I didn’t use flash at all, not even outside in the dark, and was able to capture more than enough available light just by using my settings correctly (6400 ISO, slightly overexposed, wide-open aperture). All around me, people kept complaining about their flash not going off, apparently not knowing how to properly operate their cameras. I thought it was funny. I also don’t believe the “pro” photogs shooting those graduation portraits needed to use their flash, though they did. I suppose it’s possible that the people buying those portraits don’t think they’re getting a professional photo unless there is visible flash in the shot? My images were much better. Anyway. Cheers!

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  3. Don, it’s also possible some of those “pros” are using older cameras… I was technically a pro (getting paid for taking pictures) and had a camera with a max ISO of 1600. Gym light wasn’t going to cut it for me. :-)

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  4. Mother said more than once that every time she saw a graduation, she celebrated a little inside, that she didn’t ever have to go back to school again. I share her sentiment (except for the small part of me that wants a post-retirement PhD).

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  5. Wil, point taken. Gyms, auditoriums, etc., are hard to shoot in, and I can understand the need for flash.

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  6. I have recently embarked upon my senior decade in college. I just want the degree. I have no desire to sit in a metal chair in blistering heat, waiting for the S names to walk. I’d probably trip. Children who were not yet born during the first years of my freshman decade, are now well past graduation and well into their careers.

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