The day a high-school senior becomes a graduate is often one etched in many minds, whether lived vicariously or first-hand.
On Friday, one senior at Mt. Juliet High School, Austin Childress, did the deed and officially became a Golden Bear alum. Childress tried to maintain a normal day by following regular routines, but the day will remain enshrined in his memories for what stood out.
The Lebanon Democrat followed Childress, one of Mt. Juliet’s 250-plus graduates, throughout the course of his graduation day, which began at ...
The alarm goes off. It’s graduation day ... with no early alarms for class. The only thing for Austin to get ready for is graduation practice at Mt. Juliet High. The casual walk-through, which was enough like the real thing, gives Childress the indication that he had better pay attention.
A big day like graduation requires a big breakfast. For an athlete such as Childress, he knows how important a healthy, well-balanced meal is to start the day. This time, he preps eggs, oats and a protein shake.
The practice ceremony takes place in the lobby in front of the Mt. Juliet High gymnasium. However, the soon-to-be graduates are lining up outside, in alphabetical order. The gravity of the day is starting to set in for Childress.
“It’s starting to feel real,” Childress said.
Childress is hoping the practice ceremony doesn’t last too long. He has a date with the bench press. It’s chest day. Even with graduation, there’s no excuse to take a day off.
The practice ceremony concludes. Finally, Childress has some free time and can go to the gym. However, not so fast ... there is an impromptu gathering by everyone’s vehicle in the parking lot. Childress knows this will be the last time they are all chit-chatting and carrying on in the parking lot. The gym can wait a little longer. These are the moments Childress hopes to remember.
Childress heads over to Planet Fitness. Inside the gym, he bumps into plenty of former teammates. Will it be the last time they lift together? Maybe not, but Childress still knows those moments won’t be around forever, and he wants to make the most of them.
The afternoon starts to creep up on Childress. With the moment of truth approaching, the soon-to-be graduate wants to make sure he looks every bit the part. Even if the clothes are going to be under a graduation gown, everything still needs to be ironed, including the gown.
There’s one final check for the young graduate in waiting.
“I had to make sure everything was ready before we left,” Childress said.
The graduation ceremony will be held in the Murphy Center on the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) campus. If he forgets anything, he knows there will be no going back for it.
Austin is rides to the graduation ceremony with his mom, Lisa, who actually received a diploma from MTSU two weeks ago.
“I was just there,” Childress said. “Now, it’s my turn.”
Just like at Mt. Juliet High earlier in the day, the graduates line up in alphabetical order. This time, they are under the Murphy Center, preparing to emerge before the ceremony.
“This is it,” he said to himself, as “Pomp and Circumstance” began to play throughout the arena.
The graduation ceremony concludes with the conventional tossing of the caps, and the new alumni exit the floor of the area. Downstairs, they pick up their diplomas.
After he picked it up from his counselor, it finally felt official.
“I walked around congratulating people and getting some photos taken of anyone that had any sort of impact on my high school years,” Childress said. “I had to find my friends Hamp and Jay Money. Jay Money might be the funniest kid I have ever met. I played football with him. He was one of our running backs. He, Hamp and I got multiple photos together. Hamp has been one of my best friends since I came back to public school in eighth grade. If I ever needed someone to talk to, he was there.”
“I walked out of the gym and was excited to go outside for some fresh air,” Childress said. “I first met up with my girlfriend, Bella. She came up and started hugging me, saying how proud of me she was. Then, we took several photos.”
Like a gentleman, Childress had flowers for her. The two started dating last summer before her freshman year at college began.
“We knew each other, but we weren’t that close until I got my first job at Baskin-Robbins,” Childress said. “She worked there too. We got even closer, and now, we are here.”
There is no time to waste. Childress has to find his mom. Pictures need to be taken so that the moment can be preserved in the memory collections.
Next came dear old Dad. There were also plenty of other people Austin wanted photos with.
“I met up with old co-workers of mine from my first job,” Childress said. “We all got a picture together. I thought it was really cool.”
“We decided to eat at LongHorn Steakhouse,” Childress said. “It was my family, my girlfriend, my neighbors and I. I got shrimp, steak and rice.”
With everything finally calming down, Childress knew that there was only one way to cap off the perfect day ... taking Bella out for ice cream.
“This might sound funny, but Bella and I have a tradition to go find Spongebob popsicles,” Childress said. “Every time we hang out, we go and get one. They’re seriously the best things ever. We remember getting them when we were growing up and loved them, then found them a couple months ago and now pick them up constantly.”