What Did We Really Learn in a Small Town School?

A few weekends ago, the alumni of Dillonvale High School held their reunion (which is scheduled every three years). Even though the last graduating class was in 1972, and former graduates are located across the United States, we had good attendance and a wonderful time reliving the past and the good old days of DHS.

As I visited, I realized even though many have passed on and some could not or did not choose to attend, those who were there shared a love of Dillonvale and DHS. Even if we did not know it at the time, we acquired a great foundation to pursue success in whatever way that it might be measured. In school, we had many good, caring, dedicated teachers who tried to prepare us for life. While most of us graduated in classes of 28 to 35 students (although one year we had a group of 51) only six or seven may have gone to college, and some chose the military. Others worked in the mills, railroads and mines, or established their own businesses. Some stayed in the area; others moved on.

While I surveyed the crowd and discussed the usual topics of the past, I started to ponder how a small town like Dillonvale ended up producing so many airline pilots, doctors, nurses, lawyers, professors, sports stars, coaches, businessmen, engineers, educators, pharmacists, law enforcement officers, top-notch musicians, politicians, clergy, bankers, airline attendants and many very actively involved community servants. How did that happen? We were not driven to go to college or to the military or other specific careers, but we seemed to think that old DHS prepared us for the future. Success was being a good person, providing for one’s family and making a difference. We had some failures there, but I guess that is life; is it not?

The small-town atmosphere and close-knit community taught us to get along, share and help one another. Our relatives and neighbors joined in to help keep us in line when we got too mischievous. Local churches were all full on Sundays and active with youth groups. We had scout groups, and school sponsored Hi-Y and Y-Teens, which helped us develop good moral character and values. Of course, as we chatted, a few folks repeated that old notion of: “I wish I would have studied a little more because it would have made things easier later on.” I see that as lifelong learning, however. Those people know it is never too late to change or adapt to the current challenges of our society. We all realize that we can only go back in time via our memories, but we also know that we can retain what we learned from that time forever.

As master of ceremonies, I ended our program with a special reading that I love and felt was appropriate for our school and town. Even though we did not have trigonometry, calculus, several foreign languages, computers, higher level science courses, “No Child Left Behind” or “Core Curriculum,” we were able to apply the skills we learned to succeed in life.

The reading that I shared is called “The Dash” by Linda Ellis.

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.

He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth, and spoke the following date with tears,

But he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time that they spent alive on earth.

And now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not how much we own: the cars, the house, the cash.

What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard. Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough to consider what’s true and real, and always try to understand the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile, remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent YOUR dash?

I know that by living in Dillonvale and attending DHS we learned to make our dash important. Thank you for allowing me to share my wonderful reunion experience with you.

Roger Warren is a retired teacher, counselor and principal from Ohio County Schools and is retired from St. Clairsville-Richland City School District, where he was an administrator. He was principal of Madison Elementary on Wheeling Island for 16 years and was an adjunct professor of education for West Liberty State College.