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Pride message with personal twist

Posted: Wednesday, Jul 10th, 2013

Austin Gilchrist is all smiles Monday as he is presented his diploma from Pride High director Mike Radke. Gilchrist is the 190th graduate of the alternative school since its inception two decades ago. PHOTO BY ROGER LARSEN/PLAINSMAN

HURON — Veteran educator Wayne Fenner works hard not to give the same speech twice.

It’s not easy.

That’s because every few months, he has the honor of standing in front of beaming family members and friends of the latest Pride High graduates. What will he say this time that’s just a little bit different?

On Monday, it was Austin Gilchrist’s turn to don a black cap and gown and shake Pride director Mike Radke’s hand to accept his diploma. Before that happened, Fenner had the chance at a new twist to his message.

But first, Austin.

“School is so hard and yet so easy,” co-instructor Jonna Reid said. “And Austin made it easy because he came every day. And that’s the hard part. He came every day and he got stuff done.”

His teachers said he also came to school every day with a great attitude.

He now becomes the 190th Pride High graduate in the school’s 20-year tradition in Huron, one of the few remaining alternative schools remaining in South Dakota.

Fenner reached back a few years to share an anecdote from his own personal experience with education. His fascination with it from a young age likely led him into a lifelong love of teaching.

His first introduction to the concept of school came at the tender age of four.

“I was intrigued by the whole school thing, even as a little kid,” Fenner said.

“My brother would come home and teach me some of the things he’d learned at school that day,” he said.

One day he got the opportunity to spend an hour or two at the one-room country school house in Logan Township.

But at age four, sitting on a wooden seat that a kid couldn’t even shift here and there because it’s bolted to the floor soon got old.

“I sat with my brother for awhile and then I got antsy so I was walking around the room,” Fenner said.

And here’s where his audience learned where he was going with his story.

As he wandered around, taking everything in, the young Fenner came upon a fellow who was practicing the Palmer method of handwriting. It’s a style that has long since been relegated to the history books.

The fellow’s name was Richard Gilchrist. He was an eighth grader.

“He seemed like an ancient person to me,” Fenner said.

Maybe almost as old as the teacher.

“There have been Gilchrists and Fenners in the same (school) room for years,” Fenner said.

All lived in the same countryside, all were Methodists. Fenner attended school with Gilchrists, even in college.

“There’s been a lot of school memories associated with the Gilchrist family,” he said. “That was one of my earliest school memories and there was a Gilchrist in it.”

Of course, there were a few generations of Gilchrists in the one-room Pride High classroom Monday as well. Listening to a Fenner tell the story of their mutual past.

Austin was the latest Gilchrist to earn his high school diploma, something Pride teachers instill in their charges that is crucial as they go on to make their way in the world.

Pride High is run like a business, with a referral, application and interview process, a time clock and termination when too many points are lost. There’s also a higher bar for grades.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Austin declined the opportunity to say a few words at his graduation ceremony.

Others have stood and looked at their fellow students and urged them to stick with school. Get up every day. Get to class. Study. It’s hard, but it can be done. And graduation day is so sweet.

“We’re never sure whether our kids are going to get to graduation or not; we hope they will,” Reid said.

Graduate No. 190 is reaping the reward of hard work.

“We made it and that’s the important thing,” Reid said. “And it’s just a huge day, and we just want to say how proud we are.”

For the complete article see the 07-09-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 07-09-2013 paper.

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