Music Monday: An American Child

There are certain passages in our lives that create personal bonds so deep that the flow of time has no effect on their strength or impact on you. My high school experience was one of those passages. With only 38 kids in my graduating class, we were close. So close, in fact, that our teachers insisted we take a moment in the dark school cafeteria after the ceremony, and before we went out to see our families, to say our goodbyes to one another as classmates. Some of us were headed to college in the Fall. Others would stay to work on the family farm or ranch. A few would seek their fortunes in the workplace. Two were already married and pregnant. I remember an instant knowing in my gut that it would be years before I would cross paths with most of them and some I would likely never see again.  Understanding that fully felt like a small earthquake shifting the ground beneath my feet, leaving everything I’d known before permanently rearranged.

We had a great 10-year reunion but no other reunions between then and my 40-year reunion in the summer of 2017. With such a small class, this reunion included 4 -5 classes at a time in the hopes of having a handful actually show up.  Montgomery, Texas, once a sleepy, little, country town was now all grown up and thriving, but many of our old haunts were still recognizable. It was so good to see my classmates after all these years and hear where their lives had taken them. As you would expect, we shared stories of old teachers and football games, mishaps and skip days, classic pranks and memorable moments. We remembered a few who had already left us and those who have seemingly disappeared. Some of the stories we shared were about teachers, pastors, and upperclassmen who had inspired us and those who, sadly, had the opposite effect. One of my classmates told of a teacher who allowed him to take and retake (and retake!) a test of the most common misspelled words in the English language. Having already flunked English once because he couldn’t write an essay, she told him he was making it way too hard and that by memorizing a simple formula, he could write a good essay… or at least one that would pass. He said the fact that he ultimately became the editor of the local newspaper (which he still runs today) was largely due to her unwillingness to give up on him, her belief in his ability, and the way she championed him at every turn some 40 years ago.

But, another classmate shared a different story. An African-American student, navigating a school system which had only recently integrated, recalled a white counselor who was clearly struggling to make the long-overdue shift along with the rest of the world, telling him that he should not bother taking Algebra 2 or calculus because he would not need it unless he went to college which he would never be able to afford. Fortunately for him, there were other teachers and influences in his life who encouraged him differently, and today he holds a master’s degree from the University of Houston.

On this 4th of July, one of my most favorite holidays, we celebrate a nation built on the idea of dreaming big, a nation which provides opportunities to every child and every adult to chase their dreams. This day reminds me that what we say, even off-handedly, to others (especially young people) about their abilities, hopes, and dreams can leave a lasting impression and make a difference, positively or negatively, on the outcome.

On this Music Monday, I chose “American Child” by Phil Vassar because it’s a favorite song on my “Patriotic” playlist but also because I love his lyric that says,  “Dreams can grow wild born inside an American child.”

This week, as you celebrate our nation’s independence with your family and team, remember that one of the most precious attributes of our freedom is that anyone can be or become anything they dream of. Our gift to them as great personal leaders is to be their champion, to be their voice of encouragement, and, on occasion, to show them the greatness we can see in them but which they may not be able to see in themselves.

American Child by Phil Vassar

I was ten, I was thin, I was playing first base
With a second hand glove and dirt on my face
In nowhere Virginia, who’d ever figure
That kid in the yard would go very far?

Cause 419 Lakewood had no silver spoons
Just an old beat up upright that played out of tune
Now I’m singing and living the life that I love
And when I count my blessings I thank God I was

An American child
An American child
Cause dreams can grow wild
Born inside an American child

7 lbs. 3 oz., she’s got my nose
And she’s into my heart as deep as it goes
With a promise that’s more than just someone’s last name
Anyone’s equal, in late August came

An American child
An American child
My Grandfather would have been 80 today
But in ’45 he fell down beside

An American child
An American child
Cause dreams can grow wild
Born inside an American child

“Dreams can grow wild inside an American child.”

~ Phil Vassar


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