In the history of schools, there have been many schools. Some are elementary. Some are middle. Some are even junior high. Some are high schools.
At each of these schools, there are students. Some of these students are male. Some of these students are females. Hopefully, each of these students will be there until they graduate, serving all four important years. These years are freshman year, sophomore year, junior year and senior year.
But only one of those students is Lane Penley.
Lane Penley, the MAGA-hat wearing, climate-change denying, car racing, sports-loving student I’ve been privileged to know and teach, is graduating.
I first taught Lane during his first semester in high school. To this day, I’m not entirely sure how he ended up on the newspaper staff, but I am certainly glad he did because if that 4 feet 2 inches tall (or something close to that — this kid was short, y’all!) with a moptop hadn’t walked in room 325 in fall 2015, I would have missed out on some really wonderful moments.
I’ll always remember the 2016 election where Lane, driven by his love of candidate Donald Trump, was the subject of many memes that I made.
I’ll always remember the day Lane decided he was going to watch an entire basketball game on his phone and how, as soon as it ended, he became Chapman’s resident Dick Vitale.
I’ll always remember watching March Madness games with him and how he was the only person I trusted to check my paper brackets.
I’ll always remember how Lane was The Prowl’s resident ladies man — and I’ll leave this one at that.
I’ll always remember rolling my eyes at the stories of Lane hanging out with people who are older than me.
More than any of those things, though, I’ll always remember Lane as a genuinely pleasant, easygoing student whose presence puts me at ease. When you’re around Lane, you can’t feel stress because he doesn’t even know what that word means. I truly admire that.
I am disappointed that I didn’t get to spend the last two years being Lane’s newspaper adviser, but I have thoroughly enjoyed reading his work and chatting with him in the hallways and in my office. I’ll miss him when that’s done.
Here’s one last story, perhaps the most important story, that I’ll remember long after Lane’s graduated:
When Lane submitted his first article to me as a freshman, I was certain he’d plagiarized it. After all, a freshman couldn’t have written so economical and engaging with so few grammatical errors. I tried to catch him, but it turns out, he really did write it himself.
I explained to him what happened and that it was honestly the highest compliment I could give him. He was too good to be believable.
My hope for you, Lane, is that you remember that story and remember just how much potential you have, how gifted you truly are. I pray that you will find a path in life that will allow you to capitalize on that potential and use it to improve the lives of everyone around you, just as you’ve done at Chapman High School, the school you made great again.
One thing’s for sure. Whether you do this or not, Lane, the truth is that someone is going to do it, and it’s better for you to do it than for someone else to do it.