Seniors make a poetic exit

Class gift commemorates famous American poet, class literary talent


Joseph Anderson

Looking on as Michael Carriger speaks, senior Joo-Young Lee helps present the senior class gift during senior awards night. “It was an honor to present our unique senior class gift on such a special and memorable night,” Lee said.

By Kansas Gibler

Seniors spent national poetry month working to acquire a piece of Lawrence history.

Members of the National Honors Society as well as other members of the senior class began working in late March to secure their senior gift: a framed signature belonging to American poet Walt Whitman.

The gift has caught a lot of attention, considering how different it is from previous years’ gifts.

Money came from various sources, such as the senior class donation, classroom change collecting and donations from the community. Social media also proved to be a useful tool in the process.

“It went very quickly,” English teacher Michael Carriger said. “After both The Budget’s article and the Journal World’s article and some of the online stuff we did on Twitter and Facebook, the community just came through. We had letters and checks in the mail the day after all of that. Both students in classes and teachers in the building contributed as well.”

The the gift, which has no set location yet, is significant to Whitman fans throughout the school, such as the English teachers, students and specifically, AP language and composition teacher Bill Patterson.

“I’ve taught Walt Whitman in high school, his works in this high school for 15 years, and I’ve often told the story of him coming to Lawrence,” Patterson said. “I’ve even taken classes up to the top of the hill, Old Mt. Oread on campus to think about where he stood and told them to look down that hill and what he would have seen is the place where Lawrence High School would one day be built. For me it’s just perfect that that signature from his time here would end up here in this building, which is the space he was looking at on that day that he visited.”

Carriger found the signature online years ago, but didn’t have a purpose for it then.

“A couple years ago I was looking around on the internet for things ­­— to get for myself­ — and I came across this company site and the fact that they had this signature,” he said. “It reminded me that Whitman had come to Lawrence, and Mr. [Bill] Patterson and I had looked that up at one time and really tried to figure out what his two days were like here.”

Whitman visited north Lawrence, known then as Bismarck Grove, in August 1879. He was here to attend the quarter-centennial celebration of the settlement of Kansas.

After forgetting about the signature, Carriger was reminded of it and decided that it would be a good gift for the highly literate senior class to give.

“Fast forward to this year and we were sitting with National Honor Society, and they were wanting to do some sort of project and so many in National Honor Society are part of the senior class’ officers and things like that,” he said. “They were talking about a senior gift, and that they didn’t really have an idea for a senior gift, and so it just hit me that this could be something.”

Senior class president Joo-Young Lee sees the gift as a good thing to leave for future students.

“They’ve seen it as a trend, as our class being very good at English,” she said. “So they thought it would be a good idea for this Walt Whitman signature to be our class gift and it would be a nice way to leave something tangible as our legacy.”

Carriger’s biggest goal, he said, is to keep Lawrence’s history in Lawrence.

“Having the Whitman signature here brings a piece of literary history back to Lawrence, and I hope it serves as a creative trigger for our students, faculty and community,” he said.