Late May 2003...I'm standing in a line with my classmates outside my high school gym sweating underneath my long, black robe before we get our queue to enter the building for our graduation ceremony. In tightly arranged, single file lines we make our way to our assigned seats in the middle of the gym floor.
We all quickly discover that it's much warmer inside the building than it was outside, there was now no breeze to provide temporary bursts of relief, and the amount of camera flashes coming at us from our families in the audience was blinding!
As with all events of this nature, a bevy of speakers takes to the podium one by one to address our class. Some of the speeches are more lengthy and less stimulating than others. The event programs carefully put together by the student counsel quickly transform into portable cooling devices being flapped by almost everyone in attendance.
All I can think about, sitting there sweating, is how much I want and need to get out of this town to create the life I dreamt of. Like almost every kid who graduates from a small town high school, I thought the world outside the borders of town held so many better possibilities for me than life within them did.
I couldn't wait to go off to college, make new connections, graduate, move to a big city, get hired by a big company, and become a superstar employee climbing the corporate ladder. I envisioned myself occasionally coming back to town to visit my parents driving an expensive Italian sports car and flashing my money, power, and success to any poor soul who wasn't lucky enough or ambitious enough to get out.
Slowly, over the next 13 years, I discovered that with today's technology, the place we live has little impact on the amount of opportunities we get. In addition, through marriage, the birth of my child, and my dad getting diagnosed with a serious illness I learned that in life our relationships with other people matter infinitely more than money.
It's the relationships with the people we love and the strength of our friendships that will give us peace in our final days.
Gillespie, Illinois (population 3,412) is and will always be the place that is closest to my heart. It's where I was raised. It's where I pedaled my bicycle up and down the streets with my childhood friends more times than I can count. It's where I learned to hit a baseball and shoot a basketball. It's a place where everybody knows everybody. It's where my memories were made and where my childhood happened.
A few months ago Liz and I made the decision that Gillespie is where we want to put down our roots and raise our family. When I left town all those years ago I thought I was leaving to create a better life. Now I know that the reason I left was just to give me a different perspective so I could understand just how special my hometown is!
In the words recently made famous by LeBron James.....
"I'm coming home!"
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