It's been nearly twelve years since I graduated high school. I don't recall how to work complex algebraic equation or molecular equations, but almost daily I apply the life lessons that I learned from the incredible teachers and staff at White Oak High School.

The list of teachers that did not have a direct affect on the way I live my daily life is short. I learned early on to observe the world around me and take it in like a sponge. Thankfully, I was generally in positive, enriching environments.

Our classrooms were relatively small, and our teachers were deeply dedicated to molding us into productive citizens. When my senior year rolled around, I had developed strong relationships with most of my teachers in and out of the classroom.

I was involved in multiple clubs and leadership roles, which taught me about generosity, volunteerism and community. Values that I hold near and dear to my heart. I owe a great deal of gratitude to each of ladies and gentleman that shared their time with me after hours and on weekends throughout high school.

Mandee Montana, Mix 93.1
Mandee Montana, Mix 93.1

When graduation came around, I was the senior class and student body president. While I missed the top academic rankings by a few slots, I was asked to welcome everyone to the commencement event. I did so with tears.

I was overwhelmed with emotion at leaving what felt like my home. I never kept track of the hours that I spent at school, but it's quite possible I spent more time at the high school than I did at home. My step-mother would tell people that I had a key to the school, and I had to be there to open and close it.

When I look back on my education I don't recall my exact GPA or awards and achievements. I remember the life lessons that I learned from teachers who become mentors and friends.

Suzanne Bardwell was my psychology and journalism instructor, yearbook adviser and Captain - watch Dead Poets Society for that reference. She shared something incredibly valuable with her students. She encouraged us to retain our childlike sense of wonder.

She told us the world we live in is tough. It is oftentimes challenging, jaded and cynical, but she asked us to try to see the world from a child's eyes when possible. Find joy in simple things, remember observer beauty and suck the marrow out of life. These are the lessons that I apply daily to my life, and that I appreciate more than words can express.

As another class approaches graduation, if I could offer any advice it would be the same as Mrs. Bardwell offered to each of us. Don't lose your childlike wonder. Delight in the beauty of the world around you. Take it all in, seize the day, and live your life full of passion.

It's not what you choose to do with your life, but how you choose to live it.


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