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Graduating class takes
trip back in time


By Alex Welch
Assistant Editor 

  As the Union Grove High School class of 2013 prepared for graduation, they took a step back in time last week to remember where they first started their education. East Lake Elementary School hosted a special event for the graduating class Wednesday morning to remind them of the past.

Don Lewis, a former principal at East Lake Elementary, holds up one of several items placed in the East Lake time capsule from the inaugural kindergarten class in 2000.     Photo by Alex Welch

  The seniors were treated to breakfast hosted by former principal Don Lewis in the media center at East Lake. Lewis was the principal when the school first opened in 2000, and he returned to help bid farewell to the inaugural kindergarten class from the 2000-2001 school year. A total of 127 students were in attendance for the event, according to assistant principal Stacey Barnes. She said former educators returned for the gathering as well, with 24 staff members from the first school year at East Lake on hand.

  “We all knew for a couple years that this class was going to be special graduating in 2013, that they were our first kindergarten class. So we started thinking about ideas and what to do,” said Barnes, who was responsible for setting up the event. She said they needed to wait to find out the class’s senior schedule for the end of the year to determine when they could get everyone together. A breakfast prior to graduation practice turned out to be a perfect time.

  The seniors were treated to an assortment of food and drinks while spending some time with their former teachers and administrators, reminiscing about what they’ve all been through in the past. Lewis guided the morning activities along, talking about the graduating class and handing out certificates to those who started out at East Lake in 2000. Forty-three students from the original kindergarten class in 2000 were present for the breakfast, according to Barnes.

  Barnes was one of the first staff members. She started at the school as a counselor. “I can still imagine their little five-year-old faces. I can still see them as elementary students,” she said, talking about the class graduating high school. “It’s just neat to watch them grow.” After 13 years, Barnes said she still stays in touch with some of the students and keeps up to date with what they’re doing. “A lot of them have siblings that have come through, so they’ve come back for things. And we are all very invested in the sports around here,” she said. “We’ve watched them grow up. It’s a very close community. I’ve kept up with a lot of them.”

  Lewis keeps in touch with his former students as well. He retired in 2004, but he remembers this group well. “I could remember just little stories about each one of them. They’re just a special group of kids,” he said. “This has been 12, 13 years, and I can remember half of their names.” He mentioned the local Waffle House has become a common place to run into his students these days.

  Lewis was proud of the accomplishments surrounding the senior class, noting the big plans many of the students have after graduating high school. “A lot of them are going to college. A lot of them have golf scholarships, footballs scholarships; some of them said they’re going to be doctors, so it’s just amazing. I have tears in my eyes,” he said. “It really brings back some fond memories.”

  After breakfast, the graduating seniors took a walk around the school hallways. The current elementary students and teachers stood outside their classrooms to clap and congratulate them. When they returned to the media center, Lewis talked to the seniors about the future and kept the mood lighthearted by reading the lyrics from the song “You Gotta Be” by Natalie Cole. Lewis, who said he DJs around the county, kept things on a musical note by singing “Tooty Ta” and doing the dance that accompanies the lyrics with the students. The group first danced to this tune many years ago, but it seemed quite familiar when Lewis turned on the CD player.

 Finally, Lewis opened up the time capsule the class constructed back in 2000. “Don put the time capsule together that first year, and it’s been in the media center for 13 years,” said Barnes. Inside was an original East Lake T-shirt, original homeroom rosters, the first school newsletter and a program from the opening ceremony held at the beginning of the inaugural year.

 In closing, Lewis wished everyone the best and made sure he told his former class to be careful as they headed across the street for graduation practice at Union Grove. The inaugural kindergarten class from East Lake is growing up, but they still remember where they came from.



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