Goodbye beloved hometown, hello college

Published 9:51 am Monday, July 13, 2009

By By Tray Smith
At the end of my high school graduation ceremony in May, I gathered on stage with many of my friends and relatives to take pictures and celebrate. In the midst of the excitement, my grandmother interrupted and pulled me over to the side. A man had come up to the stage to meet me. Upon shaking my hand, he looked me in the eye and said, “I just wanted you to know, I appreciate you.” To this day, I do not know that man’s name. I was so caught up in the moment and surprised by his statement I forgot to ask.
Yet, I could fill pages of this newspaper and not fully encapsulate the significance of that comment. It might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.
This is my last column in the Atmore Advance. Tuesday, I began college a few weeks early, taking summer classes. Over the years, though, it has been the unnamed people I have never met but who I know wake up every morning to raise their families, defend our freedom, or perform other functions essential to society that have motivated me to write and get involved in politics. And two months ago, at the conclusion of my long high school career, a man emerged from their ranks and said, “I appreciate you.”
Those were the magic words. Because at the end of the day, all any of us really want is to be appreciated by others. Some want to be appreciated by adoring fans. Some want to be appreciated by readers. Some want to be appreciated by receiving large sums of money through their jobs. But everyone wants to be appreciated.
Well, I appreciate that man. I appreciate that man because, as a result of his kind words, I left Atmore last weekend in happiness, knowing that, although I am now miles away, I still have a hometown where people love and support me. I in turn love and support my hometown. And I appreciate all of the people there who have made it such a great community and provided me with such a rewarding childhood. I even appreciate the spirited detractors who have submitted very lively letters to repudiate some of my previous columns. There actions have contributed to a very thoughtful debate over the state of affairs in this country, and they have demonstrated why the freedom to speak freely is an essential component of democratic governance.
One of my greatest regrets about starting college is not being able to be present around town, show up at Business After Hours, or stay involved. Now, I have a new campus community with which I must interact. Thankfully, however, I will still be able to visit frequently and stay in touch.
I invite everyone to keep in contact via email or Facebook. Or, you can chart my college experience moment by moment by joining me on the newest Internet phenomenon: Twitter. Occasionally, I will still weigh in here with comments on the events of the day, especially after I get established in college life and join the student media. I am also in the process of exploring possible forms of electronic media that will allow me to sustain my political activism online. However, “The Bottom Line,” will no longer appear as a weekly feature of this newspaper.
Over the past few weeks of my summer, I have had some much-needed spare time to relax and reflect on my adolescence. During this period, I have been blessed with a lot of good news about my upcoming collegiate experience, some disappointing news and some opportunities to just hope. The ups and downs of the college application and admissions process and the transition between high school and college, have, however, prompted me towards a much greater appreciation for all of the wonderful blessings God has given me in life. Among those blessings, I certainly count this column, which I now sadly must end. And I count all of you, my friends, who have read it loyally for four years. God bless.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith, a former page in the United States House of Representatives, is a freshman at the University of Alabama.
A previous columnist for the Atmore Advance, he may be reached at or followed at

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