May 25, 2006
Tifton-- We have lots of happy young people, parents and grandparents this time of year with all those high school graduation ceremonies. Most will happen outside, probably on an athletic field, with the grounds looking the best they can possibly look. Rarely, if ever, do we get to know the people who work hours to set up graduation ceremonies.
A job never gets old to some people who dearly love what they do. "I use to call it my first home, but now it's my second home; A very special place," says Dewey Sexton, a groundskeeper for the Tift County School System, as he rides a special lawnmower.
Dewey and his colleagues transform a sports stadium into another type of special place, where people will remember what happens here for the rest of their lives. "This will make 28 years," says Dewey when asked how many graduations he has helped set up.
They align 353 chairs as perfectly as they can to make sure graduation day is real special. For 27 graduations, Dewey stayed in the background when it comes to these exercises "Always been T-shirts, jeans, and kind of hide behind the scenes," says Dewey as he adjusts the collar of a white dress shirt.
Graduation number 28 changed Dewey's annual routine. "A little nervous," says Dewey as he ties a tie. He dresses up for the first time in more than a quarter century for a high school graduation. "It feels good," says Dewey as he ties his black dress shoes.
He helped set the stage for thousands to graduate, including his own graduation in 1980. Now, he gets to view his work like everyone else. "It's different up here," says Dewey as he sits with his family and relatives three rows up from the bottom. He chose the eastern side of the stadium, because it was cooler.
"I have a step-daughter that is going to be graduating," says Dewey, pointing her out as she walked in a procession with hundreds of other graduates. Many of the graduates don't have a clue about who made their ceremony so special.
A few minutes after the start, the announcer said three words in a bold, deep voice: Heather Nicole Skaggs, Dewey's step-daughter's name. Mother, daughter and dad stood proudly when her name was called. A few seconds of the graduation spotlight for 12 years of work.
Dewey had experienced what parents have felt for decades. He even dressed up for the special occasion. "It's worth it," says Dewey afterwards. What took a week for Dewey and his co-workers to prepare came to an end in a little more than 30 minutes. "I know he did it for me and everybody else," says his graduating step-daughter, Heather.
Her proud family was there to see it. "I'm just proud of her. I really am," says Dewey. "I'm very proud of her." Proud they can share something in common that will last a lifetime.
Dewey will put on his tie and dress shoes for another graduation in about six years when his daughter walks on the field that he will help make perfect for her special day.