At the time I graduated about 40 years ago Cherokee was the only high school in the county and times were so different back then.
What stands out now as I look back is for those of us who were headed to college it was considered a privilege, something we appreciated and did not take for granted.
Out of my high school class of more than 300, I think less than one-third were going on to an institute of higher learning, maybe even only about 20 percent.
Back when there was no HOPE scholarship many families just could not afford college. But more than that, in many families of that era getting a high school diploma was a big deal and considered a great accomplishment.
There were three avenues of study in high school then, vocational, general high school and college preparatory, so in many ways we set our course when we started ninth grade.
Many families had farms and family businesses, and a college degree was not really considered necessary to succeed in the world. The cotton mill offered a steady income, and people believed it would go on forever.
Looking back, I know I did not appreciate the sacrifices my own family made to send me off to college.
My mother had not worked outside the home since before I was born, staying home to raise the children and keep house, and proud of that as her occupation.
But my senior year she went back out into the workplace and got a job at the Reinhardt College bookstore. Even though she would often complain about being tired when she got home in the evening, I think she really loved working there.
For her I think it was almost like she herself had gone to college, although in my self-absorbed teenage way I hardly noticed anything about my mother at that time.
But later, when she was in the last year of her life she shared with me how she loved going onto campus and seeing students. How she was allowed to monitor classes, and that she sat in on art history and how much she learned and enjoyed that opportunity.
In the television shows produced from the comic strip “Charlie Brown,” grown-ups are seen as just some legs walking around and you can never make out exactly what they are saying. The kids are the stars of the show and the only ones with anything to say that matters.
That is how it seemed to me in my own teen times, adults were just sort of there. Now I know it sounds selfish and it was. I also know that I, along with my brother and sister, were my mother’s life’s work and she took it extremely seriously. Seriously enough to go back to work just to make sure I could go to the college of my choice.
And, to my discredit, I didn’t appreciate her enough back then.
But I did come to appreciate her later on, and to see how her discipline and, yes, even criticism, pounded me into a better person than I would be otherwise.
Parents these days have Facebook and camera phones and all sorts of ways to share the news about what their children are accomplishing and we have seen plenty of posts these last two weeks.
And fortunately, young people have a lot better opportunity to attend college, whether their mother has a job or not.
But still in our county, many aren’t able to make it. And still, a lot of young people in this county don’t even graduate from high school.
Because of the continuing effects of the Great Recession, many families today in Cherokee County live below the poverty level and are worrying about how to just make ends meet, much less pay for college.
But for a much greater percentage of those who do graduate high school, college is an option. We have Reinhardt University, the very place my mother worked to send me to college, available for local students. We also are close to Kennesaw State University, and for those who want a technical college, there is Chattahoochee Tech in Cherokee.
Education is a precious gift, one my own parents worked hard to help me receive.
I hope all those who are graduating this spring learn to appreciate and take advantage of their opportunities, and that they make their parents proud.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.