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”:
before I go
one song to leave behind
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.
I’ve had a few blogs that I’ve been meaning to post but after Saturday night I definitely needed to post this one and that’s about the power of the coolest social networking app to hit the web called Facebook. Think of Facebook as MySpace for adults or for people who get majorly irritated with hideous HTML embedded on MySpace pages that take forever and a day to load no matter how fast your connection is.
It started out as a social networking app for college students and you had to actually be one to get a Facebook page before they opened it up to everyone. It has a slick AJAX interface that makes things just click and go so that even the most novice web user can quickly get a profile up and going that looks decent. It has “apps” which are various little games and diversions that keep people interested or embarrass the heck out of you.
However, where Facebook really shines is in the power of its feeds. A feed is where you see what your friends are up to be it posting their own items or commenting on someone else’s stuff they put on their own page. At a glance you can see what all your friends are up to and it encourages communication since it only takes a second to comment on the item or post one of your own. I witnessed the raw power of Facebook this past Saturday night when a group of RLHS alumni got together — for no reason really but just to get together.
We started an RLHS Alumni Nights group, basically after homecoming this year, we put together a place where RLHS alumni who are still in the area or might be coming back to visit can get together and hang out with old friends. For someone like me who can be a bit distant, getting to know people is tough. What easier way to hang out and have fun for someone like me than with people I grew up with, spent years with, shared embarrassing moments with? Heck, they already know my history. That’s my reason for starting the group and getting into it but the group has nearly a hundred members now and they each bring different reasons for why they are there.
So this past Saturday we had a get-together at The Vine in Grayslake. I had one of my online gigs but as soon as it was over I got dudded up and headed on over a bit later than most everyone else. When the girl who greeted me pointed out the corner where the group was I couldn’t believe my eyes as RLHS alumni had packed a whole section of the pub. The graduation years really ran the gamut but it was mostly late-80s to mid-90s graduates all getting together and having a good time. It wasn’t like your typical reunion though where you spent all your time about where you’ve been, what you’ve been up to and how your life has been for the past ten years.
Instead of reunited it was old friends reignited again just having a good time. The various classes bled so that you had groups of people who weren’t from the same class or weren’t even in RLHS at the same time grouping together. It didn’t matter, our experiences and our common background at RLHS were all the things we needed to share some drink and some good times. Looking at that corner of people, several had come from many miles away and just happened to be in town, it really struck me at how amazing Facebook and my friends from RLHS are. Sure, there’s other social networking sites that do similar things but at my 10-year reunion I would have never anticipated anything like this now.
At the end of the night, walking back to my car after parting with the last of the group it really struck me why I do what I do on school board as well. We weren’t just taught about learning at RLHS, we were taught about life. Many of my classmates are immensely successful and they’re strewn all over the United States and even overseas now. We all came from the same place though and had our lives forged in the same crucible together because, let’s face it, we fought a less than desirable reputation then just as we do now.
So I try to do my part to give the kids the best environment and learning experiences I can give them because in my own way I’m trying to do my small part to help them become who they’re going to be. People talk about the passion I can bring to the board table sometimes and I won’t deny it. I will fight for these kids, come hell or high water, there is no reason they can’t succeed and we can’t do more to help them get there. I will not settle for excuses for why Round Lake kids can’t achieve and thrive and not just merely survive. That will never change and spending time with my friends from RLHS just reinforces that for me all the more.
By STEPHANIE N. LEHMAN – firstname.lastname@example.org
ROUND LAKE – Karina DeAnda has been playing the flute since she was in fourth grade. She practices an hour in school every day and three hours a week outside of her normal lessons.
The hours have paid off. The Round Lake High School junior was accepted into the Illinois Music Educators Association District 7 All-District Band out of 800 high school musicians that auditioned for a place in the prestigious ensemble. More than 100 students auditioned on flute; DeAnda was one of 18 selected.
“It is quite the achievement,” RLHS band director Krista Millard said. “When you have a student who’s responsible to say, I’m going to invest myself in this situation and do the best I can … you hope it was good enough, and when you find out, you find that commitment did pay off.”
DeAnda’s audition in mid-October consisted of playing scales, two prepared pieces and sight-reading a piece – performing music she had never had time to practice before.
She will perform Thursday, Nov. 13, at the IMEA District 7 Senior Festival at Evanston Township High School. She and the other band students will have approximately four hours to rehearse as a group before they perform before a crowd that could easily exceed 1,500, Millard said.
Though being selected into IMEA is one of the highest sanctions a high school musician can meet, Millard said being selected into IMEA is about more than music. It reflects individual character. And DeAnda has felt the difference.
“I’m not as shy any more,” DeAnda said. “I’ve been more responsible getting my work done, and I put a lot of me into my work.”
DeAnda isn’t the only RLHS student to shine in the spotlight. Three male members of the school’s top choir – the Panther Voices – were selected to the IMEA District 7 Festival Chorus, and two of them have been invited to re-audition for All-State choir.
Juniors James Neigel and Lindon Warren and senior Jon Stiverson all will perform at the Saturday, Nov. 15, IMEA District 7 Festival in Evanston.
Neigel and Stiverson will be pulled aside from rehearsal that day to audition for two of the top spots in the state in choir. It’s the first time in many years that RLHS has had anyone qualify for All-State, choir director Kristin Moroni said.
Neigel, who sings bass, comes from a family of musicians. His older brother was in Panther Voices for four years; his mother made All-State choir in Massachusetts when she was in high school. The bar has been set high for the junior.
But he knows what it takes to meet those high expectations. This is already his second year to make IMEA.
“Last year, I kind of slid into making IMEA. I was content to getting there,” he said. “This year, I really prepared for the auditions. And I felt confident when I left [the audition room].”
For All-State, Neigel will be asked to sing two excerpts from All-State pieces, sing scales and triads in a tonal room, and sight-read two pieces – perhaps the biggest point factor in the audition.
It’s something he’s wanted for a long time.
“It would be a very proud moment,” he said of the All-State opportunity. “And then I could learn from better singers around me. I’m really striving for it.”
Neigel’s best friend and fellow choir member, Stiverson, is also back for a second year in IMEA. Accepted as a sophomore year, the tenor missed acceptance last year, but worked his way back up to getting a shot at All-State.
The process hasn’t been easy, he said.
“You walk in that room; the room is silent,” he said. “It’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop. Your mind just empties out; you concentrate on one thing and it feels like it’s 10 seconds long.”
But Stiverson knows that as a senior, this is one of his last chances to make a name for himself before he’s shipped off to duty. He will graduate in May and join the U.S. Navy in early summer.
So, he practices. Five days a week. Before he goes to work at K-mart, after school in the car; Stiverson is always singing.
He’s been rewarded in the past. He and Neigel were two points away from a perfect score at Richmond-Burton High School in March for a duet contest.
But a possible trip to Peoria in January to perform with the All-State choir is the ultimate prize, he said.
Using the experience
Warren made IMEA by the skin of his teeth this year, being selected only after a tenor two dropped out of the performance.
But it’s an experience Warren plans to use to his advantage. His goal, after all, is to follow Neigel and Stiverson and make All-State.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” he said. “[I'm looking forward to] having a good experience with the whole combination of choirs.”
He’s already noticed what two years in Panther Voices has provided, including the ability to perform in different languages.
“I sound better in French than I do in English,” he said, laughing. “I’ve come a very long way.”
The IMEA District 7 Senior Festival concert will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, at Evanston Township High School in Evanston.
Can’t make the concert? Tune in for a delayed broadcast of the concert at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, to WFMT 98.7 – Chicago’s classical music radio station.
The RLHS music department is looking for alumni participation in Homecoming this year. Check out the attached PDF for more info!