Last month, I attended my 40-year high school class reunion. I wrote about my anticipation of this event in my previous blog. It turns out, my anticipation was warranted. It was, in my opinion, a huge success.
Many of us who attended toured our old high school (which has been converted into an apartment complex – very weird!) and then the new high school complex. Wow, what a contrast. We had a great reception later that evening. Then on Sunday, several of us attended church at the local historic Congregational Church.
Of the above events, the highlight for me was the Saturday evening reception. We reminisced about the past, we caught each other up on the present, and we encouraged each other about the future. We did so, in part, by each one of us standing and sharing a bit about ourselves with everyone in attendance. As each of my former classmates took their turn sharing, there seemed to be one recurring theme – an appreciation for the small-town values we grew up with.
Over and over I heard how growing up in this small town taught us to respect authority. It taught us perseverance. It taught us discipline. It taught us patriotism. It taught us the importance of courtesy and manners. It taught us the preeminence of family. It taught us the value of community. It taught us to cherish friendship. It taught us to not just talk about and plan for your future, but to remember where we’ve come from and how we got to where we are and where we’re going. And, most importantly, those that helped us along the way.
It’s clear that these small-town values were instilled in, and remain important to, so many of us. How do I know? Because many of my classmates have lived in Olivet, Michigan most (if not all) of their lives and cannot fathom living anywhere else. I also know because many of us who have moved away make periodic pilgrimages back to this small Michigan town. It’s become part of us; it’s in us; it permeates us. The bottom line: it is us.
Yep, Mellencamp was right when he penned these words:
No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be
I now live in Phoenix, Arizona, a far cry from a small town, especially a midwestern small town. Indeed, it is the 6th most populous city in the United States. No matter. I still consider myself “small town.” And do so proudly. From the best I can tell, so do most, if not all, of my old high school classmates.
Here’s to you, Olivet, Michigan, and all the small towns across America that are just like you!
 And his writing partner, Kenny Chesney.