PHS: Living the legacy

By Billie Johnson

just had one of the best, most surreal weeks ever! I got to experience the first day of school at Poky High all over again — 25 years after my senior year. The red and the blue, the football team, the class yells, the Indianettes breaking their arrows with the crescendo of traditional fight songs and all of the buzz still have me smiling. This time I went with slightly less acne, a few more pounds, a presumably more hip hair style and surprisingly the same amount of first-day jitters.

I’ve gotten to know second-year principal Lisa Delonas through volunteering with my alma mater’s gay-straight alliance club last year. Even after going through the paperwork to volunteer and getting all of the approvals, protocol requires me to check into the office each time. Frankly, I love this protocol. The ladies in the PHS office are as nice as the ladies who were there 25 years ago. Their energy and genuine care for students always has me parting in a better mood. I wish high school could feel like that for everyone.

When I first met Mrs. Delonas, it was liberating to step into the principal’s office as a grown up. The last time I sat in that visitor’s chair at Pocatello High School, Dr. Carole McWilliam was shaking her finger at me for wasting time trying to weasel out of physics. And while this engineer has since thanked Dr. McWilliam for that, I’ve also appreciated the physics-free nature of my talks with Mrs. Delonas.

The first thing I noticed in Mrs. Delonas’ office was a bumper sticker on her bookshelf. I saw that same sticker when I showed up at Poky for the first day of volleyball tryouts. It was on the right side of Valerie Draper’s brown Ford Tempo. “PHS Where everybody IS somebody.” I believed it then and I believe it now.

Last spring while we were not talking about physics, Mrs. Delonas asked if I would welcome this year’s students on the first day of school and help kick off the year’s theme: Living the Legacy. Would I? Absolutely!

High school was easy for me to love. I was athletic and played the trombone. I was friendly and not prone to anxiety or depression. My haircut and mannerisms may have prompted “dyke” and “fag” to be scribbled on my campaign posters during a successful bid for student body president, but it didn’t faze me. What did faze me, however, was the type of human beings who attended Poky with me. I invited the entire class of 1991 to rejoin me on this year’s first day of school.

Many locals couldn’t miss work, and out-of-town classmates extended regrets, but our class still wanted to contribute. Many sent well wishes and financial donations so we could have Stuart’s Media Group digitize, brighten and reinstall our class picture that hangs near the main office. We also wanted each student to have that same bumper sticker that Mrs. Delonas keeps in her office, so Stuart’s helped us with that, too.

My 10 classmates who joined me at Poky this week to hand out almost 1,000 bumper stickers while I spoke were a coincidental and serendipitous representation of Poky’s enduring diversity. We had athletes, band members, drill teamers, cheer leaders, class-skippers and overachievers, but none of these people were necessarily my friends in high school. I can’t help but wonder what I missed in not knowing each of these people better 25 years ago.

I begged this year’s students to take risks on building friendships. How are friendships forged? Somebody makes the first move. Somebody offers the first smile with eye contact. Somebody opens the door. And there they were, sitting on the bleachers at PHS — where everybody is somebody.

As students accepted bumper stickers (extras are in the office), I hope they saw the class of 1991’s smiles, and I hope they could see glimpses of their current and future selves. We not only made it through Pocatello High School, but we thrived and we still swell with Poky Pride.

I hope this year’s student see that when somebody’s gotta do it, they can be that somebody. Once they let their classmates and teachers; the athletes, choir, band and drama members; the math geeks, debaters and every other somebody at PHS surround and support them, Poky Pride will consume them and that pride never dies.

Twenty five years later, Poky’s class of 1991 is counting on you students today. We won’t be back at Poky tomorrow, but you will. We’ll go to work and continue raising our kids and living about in our community letting our Poky Pride permeate the other areas of our lives. You are living the legacy now. Live it. Love it. Be it.

Billie Johnson of Pocatello holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree from Idaho State University. She works as an engineer, is an avid community volunteer, and maintains a blog about her adventures in a cow suit at www.CowSuitSaturday.com.