Small towns in North Dakota have a secret. The mayors don't brag about their secret. The townspeople don't put up signs about the secret. The folks in small towns would just tell you, "That's the way it's done around here."
This past Sunday, some of my family from Texas and I attended the TGU Granville commencement ceremony and we were amazed at the turnout. It seemed as if the entire community came out to support these 9 Granville High School graduates. Most of these graduates had attended school together since elementary and they treated each other as family. The salutatorian and valedictorian inspired their classmates and the community with their speeches. The principal spoke briefly about the accomplishments and special gifts of each graduate. The energy in that gym that afternoon was overwhelming. It was magical.
After the ceremony, the principal and the community made the rounds to each graduates open house and visited with their families and friends. The attitude of these hometown folks wasn't a feeling of obligation or requirement, it was genuine caring and happiness for the accomplishments of these nine young adults.
North Dakota small town schools are closing and small towns are disappearing. It appears once a school is closed, the town starts to die. With all the technology of 2010, small town schools have the ability to access remote or Internet classes for the various electives a student may choose to learn. Therefore, the small town school students can enjoy all the opportunities that the bigger schools offer, but they have the advantage of the secret.
Since moving up to North Dakota I have heard of some small towns closing their schools. I thought, "Oh well, I guess it's just a sign of the times" and paid it little notice. But now I see it as losing so much more than just a school, it is losing a big part of the small town secret.
When I look out my kitchen window or drive to town, I pass this little, deserted, one-room school house that is slowly surrendering to the harsh elements of North Dakota. The windows are broken, the chalk board is crumbled, the desks are nowhere in sight and the secret is silent. All the times I looked upon that proud abandoned building trying to stand strong, I didn't understand what we as a country have truly lost.
You see, the secret was revealed to me this past Sunday, at the Granville graduation celebration. The secret of a small town is also at the cafe on Main Street, the local gas station and at the hometown churches. It's also there when the community comes to the aid of a fellow neighbor.
Most folks raised in small towns are unaware of the secret I am talking about. You see, it's natural to them. It's just the way it is. Not all small towns have the secret. The small towns in Texas lost the secret years ago, but North Dakota small towns still have it. It must be experienced to be revealed.
(Cindy Johnson is a community columnist for The Minot Daily?News)