Tonight is Bay High School’s commencement. I haven’t been asked to give a commencement address and probably never will, but I do have a few observations about my adopted hometown.
In the coming weeks so many of you will want to flee the Bay Bubble as fast and as far away as possible. You’ll want to escape the saccharine nature of Bay Days, Family Fun Days and Rocket football games and the ridiculousness of not being able to use Cahoon Park on Sundays. You may crave anonymity, something so hard to accomplish in such a small, close-knit community.
This is a place where, in a matter of minutes, news of a drug search at the Bay High parking lot spreads like wildfire through the extended network of younger siblings. And if you were one of the unfortunate students who had your car searched for marijuana, you’ve likely had to endure the knowing glances and smirks of your parents’ friends who nod as if to say, “Sure it wasn’t yours.”
Escape from block schedules, Mr. McAndrews’ prying eyes on the smokers under the Wolf Road bridge, Brad Friedel soccer camps, after prom preparations and your parents’ warnings about the creepy people who lurk at Huntington Beach on summer weekends.
So go ahead and find yourselves. Go to the big city if it’s calling your name. Head to Hollywood if that’s your destiny. Fulfill your potential and find your heart’s desire. And if that’s far from Bay Village, so be it.
But mark my words, some of you will choose to come back.
That’s right. Someday when college is behind you and you’ve had the chance to sow your oats on bigger horizons, you’ll long for the quaint community that nurtured you throughout your youth.
It will be small things that will tug at you at first. You’ll be at some trendy bar, sipping a cosmopolitan and you’ll suddenly remember Mexican night when your parents and neighbors gathered in the backyard for fajitas and margaritas. Of how one dad would mix up a batch of virgin daiquiris (known to the kids as icees) that would be the most refreshing break after a game of manhunt.
You’ll remember how Mr. Lowry at Java Bay never tossed you out of his coffee shop, even when you arrived en masse after school let out. How he always seemed to remember everyone’s name and how he knew more about the high school basketball scene than anyone in Bay.
While jogging through same major metropolitan area someday you’ll remember how you could ride your bike from one end of Bay to the other (Bradley Park to Reese Park) and not get tired. And how Lake Erie provided a chill to every spring soccer game and a welcome breeze at a baseball game under the lights at Hartman.
You’ll remember how beautiful your community is — with its northern border as Lake Erie and the Huntington Reservation smack in the middle. You’ll remember Monty the Python at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center and how cool it looked when he shed his skin. You’ll remember the day the wrecking ball tore down the old Bay Middle School and how half of Bay Village braved the January cold to watch it happen.
Winter will bring memories of sledding at Rose Hill and ice-skating at Cahoon. And you’ll never forget the summer the new pool opened, with its awesome slides and killer snack bar. You’ll crave Superman ice cream at Martin’s Deli, orange blossom at Honey Hut or Georgio’s $5.99 pepperoni pizza. And you’ll be able to remember the names of all the barbers at the Bay Barber Shop — Ken, Jim, Ski and Doug.
Then something remarkable may happen. You may realize as you start to settle down, that the Bubble wasn’t so bad. That it was really an ideal place to raise a family — maybe even your family. And then suddenly you find yourself searching the classifieds and then the real estate section, looking for that first starter home, which are so abundant in Bay.
You won’t care that the property taxes are high. You know there are some things worth paying for — phenomenal schools, fabulous parks, outstanding recreational opportunities and the comfort that comes from living in such a safe environment.
In your move back to the Bubble, you’ll suddenly be standing in the checkout line at Heinen’s and you’ll run into classmates, who have also made the same choice. And over beers at the Ironwood you’ll all reminisce about the creek water incident in which half of Bay High called in sick in the 1980s because someone had made Harry Buffalo using water from Porter Creek.
And you’ll howl until you cry remembering how your cousin skeeched in the snow off the back of the school bus all the way down Winsor Drive. Or how on a dare you jumped from the back of the concession stand at the stadium onto the pole vault mats below. You’ll remember with great fondness how Mr. McAndrews wasn’t so bad after all. He knew everybody’s game and really gave you the chance to change your ways. You’ll remember the sight of Mr. Knapp, with his long stride, running throughout the city. Or how Mr. Kozlowski was the best math teacher you ever had, always willing to go the extra mile for his students.
You’ll remember how beautiful the dewy grass was in the early hours at Bradley Park or how the red sunset filled the sky over Lake Erie. And as you wipe the Dairy Queen ice cream from your youngster’s face, you’ll recite the phrase your mother taught you years before: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” And you’ll know why you came back.
But for now, go out and discover who you want to be, knowing that there's a community of well-wishers standing behind you.
Good luck, Class of 2005, wherever you may land.