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Column: Graduation message? Have fun

Way back, oh, 24 years ago, a friend gave me a graduation card with a simple message on it - Life is short. Have fun.

And really, I've tried to. I had a blast through college (by choice), and haven't exactly settled down with a husband and kids (not necessarily by choice). I have a job that is plenty stressful at times, but I work with a great bunch of people who make me laugh every day.

But 24 years is a whole lifetime.

I seem to be waxing poetic this week or something. Maybe it's the simple acknowledgement that today marks my 16th anniversary of covering this community. Maybe it's the fact that about 385 of Farmington's teens are heading off to their futures after tomorrow night. Or maybe I'm just tired.

On Monday, while working on an outside project, I spent about an hour and a half looking through bound editions of the Independent. I was looking for specific stories and pictures, and not having as much luck as I had hoped I would.

Pretty soon, though, I realized I was looking at my past. There was just a glimmer of recognition at times, but other things br-ought back a flood of memories. It was actually pretty fun.

I found Brownie the Mystery Dog, and had to laugh. Back in 2003, we had a little miscommunication when it came to placing the Pet of the Week photo, so the blurry image of a dog named Brownie was printed. I saw pictures of Nathan and myself, heck, all of us who worked here a few years ago. There was a group picture of us from a Halloween Walk, the year we went with a storybook theme and everyone dressed up like book characters.

There were house ads of us, complete with nice photos of each of us, and a description of who we are and what we do around this place. And then there were the embarrassing house ads - our childhood pictures that more or less let everyone in Farmington know we were just a good-natured bunch who could make fun of ourselves.

I came across a lot of old stories, too. There were good ones and others that were not so good. There were several that were just plain hard to write ones. There was the general evolution of a destructive homecoming tradition ending and the hard work of young leaders to establish new, positive traditions. Farmington's growth spurt in the early part of the decade, followed by the abrupt growth stunt of more recent years.

And the pictures. Pictures of kids who are now graduated, pictures of men and women I've known from the community who have moved or passed away. Dew Days, Rambling River Days and Dew Days again. Grand Day celebrations, band concerts. Election celebrations, county fair ribbons. Smiles and tears.

All these things I've seen and experienced since I graduated from high school. Did I ever expect, way back then, that this was how my life would turn out to be? Yes, and no. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. When I graduated from Hastings High School, I knew I was going to Mankato State University in the fall and I knew I wanted to major in journalism. To an extent, I am where I had always wanted to be.

But there are things I've missed, too. I don't know if I can really blame the irregular hours of a newspaper reporter for my lack of a family. I graduated from high school with the father of one of the FHS seniors in the Class of 2010. He and his wife, who graduated a year after me, raised a family. I figure I've raised a town, in a way.

My little trek down memory lane didn't really accomplish much for the project I was working on - I was looking for pictures of former fire chief Ken Kuchera, and didn't find as many as I was hoping for. Ken passed away this past weekend, and I considered him a friend. Ken was 63 years old, and had spent most of his year of retirement battling cancer.

But knowing Ken, and then looking back at the things I have done over the past few years, I started to think of what kind of inspirational message I could send to our seniors. And the answer was right there:

Life is short. Have fun.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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