There were no black people in the town I grew up in. It wasn’t until I went to Lorain Catholic High School my freshman year that I started making friends with people who were a different color than me. My first black friend was Dionne Gorham. We just clicked. It didn’t matter that she was black and I was white. We were friends. That’s all that mattered.
Dionne and I hung out most of our freshman year. We were both kind of outsiders. She was a minority at a school with mostly white kids. I was a new girl from a boating town where people were considered to be snobby. We didn’t care. We felt like ourselves in each other’s company. Our interests were similar. We loved Price, big hair, and boys.
Being friends with Dionne opened up a world for me I did not know existed. It was fun to get to know her because our worlds were so different. I loved Dionne for her kind heart. It felt good to be around her, and we laughed a lot.
As I got more comfortable at Lorain Catholic, I began to make more friends. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I played saxophone in marching band my freshman year. I played it for several years in grade school, and I really enjoyed it. My dad told me it would be good for me to join marching band because then I could go to all of the high school football games. At the time, I didn’t know it really wasn’t cool to be in the marching band. But Dionne was in the band with me, and we had fun. We went to every football game our freshman year.
I met two flag girls – Shannon Sweeney and Karen Parsons who became my life-long friends. Our click grew with the addition of my St. Peter’s friends and Michelle Hansworth, a fellow Vermilionite who was the daughter of my piano teacher. Michelle, who I still consider to be my best friend, and I were a few of the outsiders from Vermilion. There was also Kelly Kilker – my classmate since first grade who grew into a woman who inspires me to this day – and Chris McNulty.
Chris was a year older than me. I thought he was big time because he was Mrs. McNulty’s son. I always felt if Mrs. McNulty thinks Lorain Catholic is good enough for Chris, then it must be good enough for me. He was a role model. He was very involved in sports, student government, drama and other activities. Watching him easily make friends and fit in motivated me to do the same.
As much as I enjoyed LC, I still thought my life would be better if I went to Vermilion High School. The public school was within walking distance of my house. LC was a 20-minute car ride and over an hour bus ride with all of the stops. I cried and pleaded with my dad many times to let me transfer to Vermilion. But he never gave in. Looking back, I’m glad he didn’t.
Continuing my Catholic education was more important than fitting in with the public school kids. It was a sacrifice not only for my parents to send me there but also for me to go there. I had to dress up every day – like I was going to a job interview. Public school kids got to wear jeans and shorts. I was wearing dress pants and skirts. Maybe that’s why I still have more dresses and skirts in my closet than casual clothes.
Now, I have friends who let their children decide where they are going to go to high school, instead of the other way around. That is a foreign concept to me. In my house, we did as my parents told us. Sure, we were allowed to question it, but ultimately, we went where they told us to go, thank God. How can a child ever know more than their parent? In my mind, it’s not possible because they don’t have the life experience.
That was certainly true for me. I had very little life experience, so I thought my parents were torturing me by making me go to LC. Looking back, it’s one of the best gifts they ever gave me.
Your high school days are some of the best in your life. The struggles you face may seem insurmountable at the time, but years later you will look back and laugh. If you are lucky enough, some of the friends you make could be your friends for life. The bad decisions you will make help you grow. The tests you pass (and fail) will help you realize how hard you have to work if you want to succeed.
Graduation will be the last day you see many of the classmates you spent some of the toughest years of your life with. Years later if you unexpectedly bump into them, you may not recognize them until they laugh or stare into your eyes. When that happens, you may share a common smile. The laughing will begin and memories will start to flow.
I’m still waiting to bump into Dionne one day. I’d like to hug her and thank her for being my friend. She took a chance on a shy girl from a sheltered town and taught me a true friend looks past the color of a person’s skin and into their heart.