Tim Whyte | To My Small-Town Girl as Her Journey Continues

Tim Whyte

By Tim Whyte

Signal Editor 

Press me into answering the question, “What’s your favorite song?” and there’s always been a solid chance that I’d say it was “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey.

It was the seminal song of my teenage years, and in my sophomore year of high school, having freshly started my first job at Del Taco, I played the role of “big spender” and got tickets for me and some friends — including a girl I was trying to impress — to go to the Journey concert at the Forum.

It was an amazing show and I left with fond memories, even though the girl went home with another guy. 

True story.

But that’s OK, because my own journey was meant to go in another direction. Fast forward a few years. Yikes, I don’t know how many. A lot.

For the past four years my wife and I have gone to watch Friday night football every fall as our daughter Brooke has been a cheerleader for my own alma mater, Saugus High School. (My beautiful wife, Erin, went to Hart, but I married her anyway, 27 years ago this past Thursday. Happy anniversary!) 

It struck me during those football games that the song I recalled so fondly from my youth, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” had stood the test of time: Toward the end of halftime of each home game, they would play that song on the loudspeaker, and the student section — the Blue Crew — would absolutely belt it out. 

All these kids, born around the turn of the 21st century, knew all the words to that song that was a hit when my date ditched me at the Forum in 1981.

The song is pushing 40 years old, and the kids know every word. I thought that was pretty cool.

As it turns out, Brooke thought it was pretty cool, too. And as her high school graduation approached, she got to thinking: She would like to speak at her graduation, and she had a particular theme in mind, all drawing on the lyrics and sentiment of that 40-year-old song.

She wrote the first draft of the speech in a day or so, then fine-tuned it a bit, and she auditioned to be the senior speaker. I gather that the judges liked the speech pretty close to as much as I did, because they selected her to speak at the graduation ceremony this past Tuesday.

Confession: As graduation day approached, I was so damn nervous for my little girl. There were going to be about 7,000 people at the graduation, held at the College of the Canyons football stadium. How many of us would crumble into the fetal position if you stuck a microphone in our face in front of 7,000 people? 

Apparently, though, I was more nervous than she was. She came home from graduation practice that morning and said she liked the way she sounded on the stadium loudspeakers. Oozing confidence, this kid.

Still. As Tuesday evening approached, I was something of a nervous wreck.

Turns out, I didn’t need to be.

Brooke Whyte addresses her fellow graduates at the 2019 Saugus High School Commencement ceremonies at College of the Canyons Tuesday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

As any other dad can attest, she will always be my little girl, no matter what she does, and no matter what she accomplishes. But when Brooke took the stage on Tuesday night, I also saw an honor scholar, a young woman who’s smart, confident, witty, polished and entirely comfortable with herself whether she’s talking to seven people or 7,000.

All parental bias aside, the kid nailed it. Home run. Long ball, out of the ballpark, clearing the center field bleachers, and somewhere, someplace, that ball is still coming down.

She spoke of that song, and the memories of those football and basketball halftimes, and how it was ironic that they all sang a song that was so old, their parents knew it from high school. (Insert groans from parents here.) 

And she spoke of the importance of “finding emotion” and having an impact on the lives of others. And she called on her fellow graduates to achieve, to leave a positive mark on the world, and, of course, she told them in the end, “Don’t stop believin.’”

I’m not doing it justice here, but it was a helluva speech. 

And yes, when she got to the part where she said leaving Saugus High and moving on to college made her feel like she’s that “small-town girl, taking the midnight train goin’ anywhere” — yeah, I choked up a bit, because I know it’s just a few short months until we pack up her stuff and take her to Pullman, Washington, to start her freshman year as a Cougar at Washington State University. 

I know how that’s going to play out because we went through something similar three years ago. I drove with our son Luc to move him to Norman, Oklahoma, so he could start his freshman year as a Sooner at the University of Oklahoma. After he dropped me off at the Oklahoma City airport for my flight home, I found an airport bar and proceeded to cry into my beer. 

Book it: Erin and I are going to repeat the scene in Pullman this August.

It’s OK, though. Our girl is more than prepared, and more than ready, for this next phase of her life. Maybe we did some things right, or maybe she overcame some things we did wrong, or maybe a little of both. But the kid is 100 percent ready.

And she’s got that song to lean on, any time she wants it.

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter:  @TimWhyte.  

Brooke Whyte walks back to her seat following her speech at the 2019 Saugus High School Commencement ceremonies at College of the Canyons Tuesday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

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