Journey has made trip worth taking again

Kyle Hightower

I have a running joke amongst friends and family. It’s not fall out of your chair kind of funny, it’s the kind of thing that just sounds believable enough to be possibly true and might make your chuckle a bit.

The joke is that on graduation day I plan to shake President Gary Ransdell’s hand and, with the kind of hops former Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug would be proud of, will turn a cartwheel on stage for all to see.

OK, maybe not. But I will definitely feel the desire to do so.

May 8, after all, will be the first time I have ever walked across a stage in a cap and gown during a graduation ceremony.

Confused? Let me explain.

I never graduated high school. OK, that statement is kind of misleading. See, while I completed all my required studies to graduate from high school with honors – I never actually got to walk.

Instead, I spent my high school graduation night in University of Kentucky Medical Center, as doctors nursed the golf ball-sized tumor that had been discovered nesting in the center of my brain days before.

Here is the short version of the rest of the story: the golf ball-sized tumor that to this day doctors have no idea of its origin was found to be non-cancerous. Over the course of 27 days, I had three surgeries to correct a handful of life-threatening complications. I lost a lot of weight, watched family and friends shed many tears, and walked out 27 days later with a new perspective on life and what’s important in it that has endured ever since.

I have three noticeable scars on top of my head from my surgeries. Long before I ever went into the hospital, I wore my hair bald. I could choose to cover up my scars simply by growing my hair out a little bit. I choose not to.

My scars tell me where I have been. They allow me to stare my past and present in face at the same time with a simple glance in the mirror. My friends and family tell me they barely notice them. I tell them scars don’t bother me and that I want people to see what God has brought me from.

A skinny kid from Paducah will graduate from college next week with a degree in journalism. A skinny kid from Paducah is heading south to start a full-time job in June.

On a recent checkup I learned that my tumor is continuing to shrink as a result of a radiosurgery procedure I had before my sophomore year at Western. It has gone from 2.8 centimeters by 2.52 centimeter to a manageable marble-size of 1 centimeter by .7 centimeter.

That’s four years of shrinking against four years of personal growth at an institution of higher learning. I have grown from childhood to manhood here, not because of where I have been entirely, but because of my perspective on what it took to get here.

College days swiftly pass and they are imbued with fond memories. My college years have been some of the most memorable of my life. If given the opportunity to change anything in my life, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I have met individuals in my treks up and down the Hill that have and will continue to inspire me long after I leave here with their words, actions and spirits. From Jack Harbaugh to Tabitha Briggs to Ricardo Sisney to Corey Nett to countless others – thanks for touching my life with your stories.

Here’s to Western and everybody out there who continues to overcome obstacles and achieve their own pieces of happiness.

Kyle Hightower is a graduating print journalism major from Paducah. He promises to be “the bald guy in rare form” next Saturday at graduation.

The opinions expressed in this commentary do not reflect the views of the Herald, Western, or its adminstration.