Twenty-years ago this month, I was graduating from William Henry Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind.
Because of the rapidly growing population of West Lafayette, the school was added onto right before I arrived as a sophomore.
People don’t move to Tippecanoe County, which is where Lafayette is located, for the schools. Some residents have lived there their whole lives. Some residents come for the opportunities at Purdue University. Some come to work at companies like Subaru, Caterpillar or Eli Lilly.
William Henry Harrison High School is located just north of West Lafayette. When I was in school, this massive building, which housed roughly 1,300 high school students, was surrounded by crops and pastures to the north, south, east and west. But that was 20 years ago.
My in-laws recently moved back to Lafayette, after living in Mahomet, Cedar Rapids and St. Louis, last summer. Their new home is near my old high school, which is now surrounded by new schools to the north and west, a huge church to the south and many subdivisions.
Of course, towns change. They should, right? If we’re not changing, we’re not growing.
Lafayette has changed to the point where I barely recognize it.
Before we moved to Mahomet in 2002, Lafayette had just opened a new bypass, US-231 that takes drivers around the town. The US-231 I knew growing up was a 2-lane road that meandered past an old doughnut shop, a church, a school, farms with fences and friend’s homes. The new US-231, which runs to the south and west of town, goes right between crops. When using this bypass, you get to where you are going faster.
When returning to Lafayette 20 years later, I found myself frustrated with the way that the old roads, the roads that I had grown up with as a teenager, were either closed or changed. When you grow up in a rural community, which the outskirts of Lafayette are, you know all the secret back roads.
Then when you return and many of those roads are changed, you lose that familiarity. And familiarity means home. I don’t feel like Lafayette is my home anymore.
I didn’t spend my entire childhood in Lafayette, so I don’t have those long-standing memories that my children will have when they are adults looking back on Mahomet.
When we moved to Mahomet 16 years ago, it wasn’t home for me. My heart was back in Indiana.
But 16 years later, I can look at people and say, “We’ve done life together for 16 years.” I’ve watched many in this year’s graduating class since they were 4 or 5 years old. And while I did not grow up here, I know many of the back roads, I pass certain landmarks and am flooded with memories and know that no matter what, there are people here who are walking right beside me.
So, then, why have I been asking myself lately, “is Mahomet my home?”
And if it is my home, “do I like this place anymore?”
Let’s rewind for a second.
Why did we move to Mahomet? We moved to Mahomet for the schools.
We wanted our children to grow up being academically challenged, but we also wanted so much more than that for them.
It was obvious that first year, a year where my daughter fell in love with her first-grade teacher and a man who made the kids laugh during lunch, that Mahomet was so much more than just a place to learn how to read and write. It was a school district that set up a culture of relationships and opportunities.
Mahomet was an interesting place because the children here grow up knowing that there is this big world outside of their community while also knowing that there is something special about being close to the neighbors around you.
My first encounter with this experience was the annual homecoming parade.
At William Henry Harrison High School, the student council members decorated a “float” that was pulled around the track during the halftime of the homecoming game.
But here, my first-grade student was going out with her class to watch the annual homecoming parade, which happened at the end of the school day on the same day as the homecoming game. And it wasn’t just the first-grade students: kindergarten through 12th grade lined the streets from the high school to downtown Mahomet and back to collect candy and to cheer on their friends.
And parents, siblings, grandparents, neighbors, and business owners were invited and involved, too.
It didn’t matter if you were an athlete or in the band; if you parent could get off work or not; if you had money or did not; if you got straight A’s or were failing a class. We were all there together for an hour.
It’s been like this for 11 years we’ve been part of the Mahomet-Seymour School District. Sometimes my kids are in the parade and other times they aren’t. Sometimes they were sad when they weren’t in the parade and sometimes they didn’t want to be in the parade because they just wanted to get candy.
There was float after float after float…and some years, after float….of orange and blue. And every child, whether on the float or on the street, was participating in something that was about community.
The memory the students have, one where they were a part of something bigger than themselves, is what they will carry into their adult years.
The 2017 homecoming parade included something special: those Mahomet-Seymour graduates who have gone on to do special things in their careers or lives were honored by being named to the Mahomet-Seymour Education Foundation’s first annual Hall of Fame, getting to ride on a float in the parade and hanging out at their alma-mater until the football game ceremony that night.
Some still live in the area, and others traveled from out-of-state for the honor.
The inductees noted how special they felt that day, what an honor it was to come back, but most of all, they enjoyed being in the parade. Seeing familiar faces at the football game and being recognized was nice, but those men and women were really able to reconnect with the community, students and school during the homecoming parade.
This was a change to the homecoming parade that represented who and what Mahomet-Seymour is.
But about two weeks ago, the Mahomet-Seymour School District made yet another sweeping change that does not fully represent who we are and what we do. They announced on social media that this fall’s 2018 homecoming parade would be held on a Wednesday evening, after school hours and would be followed by the M-S Powder Puff game at the high school.
The majority of parents and taxpayers didn’t hear about this change before it was announced on social media. Only a select few were in on the conversation, which has been happening since last fall. Whether it was by telephone call or in a meeting, someone, somewhere decided that our long-standing tradition needed to be changed.
Of course, we have to understand why that change is being made: five years ago kindergarten students moved from Middletown Elementary on Division Street and next year first and second-grade students will move from Sangamon Elementary on Main Street to Middletown Prairie Elementary on Bulldog Drive.
The school district cannot bus 750 five through seven-year-olds to downtown Mahomet safely.
But the bigger problem is that all of these great experiences for our kids have been taken away in one year. And the decisions have happened behind closed doors.
Junior Olympics (which did happen this year because of the awareness raised earlier this year). Jump Rope for Heart. Celebrate Art. The Egg Drop. Bulldog Pride Night. Changes to the Storybook Parade.
When my children were little, I remember thinking, “Wow, Mahomet sure does get together a lot.” I felt like we were going to event after event, but there was so much value to going to these events because this is how we connected.
In the big picture of life, is it a big deal that the homecoming parade is moved from a Friday afternoon to a Wednesday evening? Probably not. What is significant is that these changes have all happened within one year, and that they have all been dropped on us. No discussion and little community (only a select few) input sought.
Of course, change is inevitable. You see change all over Mahomet. Population numbers have grown over the last decade and we have more commercial space than ever before.
But people are not moving to Mahomet for opportunities to engage with commercial space; people move to Mahomet to engage with people. Recently, Mahomet has spent so much time focused on building buildings that we’ve forgotten that this place is special because we build people, relationships, and community in ways that other places forget to.
These changes have been on the backbone of elected and appointed leaders who seemingly have a different vision for Mahomet. But elected and appointed officials should not be leaders who change the direction of a people, but rather enhance who those people collectively are.
You see, after living here for 16 years, I have realized that people move to Mahomet for the schools, but fall in love with the community because it’s more than a place where we put our kids for seven hours a day.
The Mahomet-Seymour School District is the culture of this community.
Maybe a school district shouldn’t have that responsibility, but I think until about three years ago, the school district gladly accepted that responsibility.
Whether it was parents sitting on chairs that were too small at lunchtime, cheering on the basketball team in the dead of winter, meeting up at the schools for registration, traveling to Indianapolis for a field trip, raising money for heart disease or the Dawg Walk or decorating for prom, the schools have always provided us with a culture that brings people, generations together.
When I heard about the change to the homecoming parade, I thought about all the kids who would not have the same experience as my children did. They won’t be surrounded by their teachers and peers while they watch the floats.
Then I thought about all the kids who would not get that experience at all. Maybe their parents don’t get home before 6 p.m. Or maybe their parents wouldn’t take them at all. Or maybe the child will have a practice. Or maybe they just won’t care to come because they don’t care about school.
Maybe that’s okay, too.
But maybe what’s not okay is that we are currently during is building Mahomet’s version of US-231: a bypass that avoids the old doughnut shops, the farms, and fences, the friends’ houses.
We are changing this town in a way that when my kids come back in 20 years, it won’t feel the same anymore. And knowing a lot of kids, I think I can safely say that maybe we are changing the town to become something our kids won’t come home to.
Mahomet’s population has been growing because we’ve been doing something right. What we were doing wasn’t always perfect, but it seemed right. It was what people were attracted to because it’s what people need.
We’ve been providing students with more than reading and writing, we have educators who love the students and we had a district which loved the community.
And I don’t feel like Mahomet is home right now because while I’m still living here, even while I still have kids in school, Mahomet doesn’t feel like the community we moved to 15 years ago, lived in 10 years ago or even five years ago.
We are eliminating our traditions. We are taking the depth of routine and shared common experiences away. We are taking away our ability to gather and connect through positive experiences.
So much of me is happy that my kids (especially my oldest daughter because when she was little she had a great experience) was able to experience Mahomet as it were. And sometimes my heart aches knowing that kids who aren’t even born yet will not have those experiences or that those parents will not get to experience the true depth of what Mahomet has been.
I think a lot of us are asking, “what’s next?”
And I am constantly asking, “have we forgotten who we are and what we do?”