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Cook column: Giving awards is learning experience

High school graduation is nearing. This is the time for senior awards assemblies, when schools and community groups recognize students’ accomplishments.
The Post gives All-County Scholar awards each year, and I’m one of the presenters ó a small role with occasional small slip-ups.
There was the time one of the plaques slipped out of my hands and clattered onto the stage of Salisbury High during a presentation. Oops.
At South Rowan High School recently, the first syllable of “Salisbury” slipped out of my mouth when I was supposed to say “South” ó twice. That brought some chuckles and cackles. Not a smooth move.
Later in the week, school board member Jean Kennedy said “North” instead of “West” as she began a presentation ó understandable because she taught at North Rowan High School for decades. The audience laughed with her.
The ceremonies, after all, are not about us. They’re about the kids ó smart, conscientious, full-of-life young people only slightly aware of the challenges ahead. But they’re stepping forward with confidence.
At West Rowan last week, Realtor Dianne Green quipped that she was the shortest person at West when she was a student there, and she was still the shortest person there as a presenter. She gave out scholarships and awards from the Salisbury Rotary Club.
All the kids who accepted awards from her were indeed taller ó one athlete towered above her. But Dianne stands tall in other ways.
– – –
At Carson High last week, my assigned seat put me next to a man I’d never met. We waited silently for the program to start.
It’s nice to see young people get recognized for the good things they do, I said.
Yes, he replied. The newspapers sure don’t do anything like that.
OK, I thought. I let it go and soon walked to the microphone to introduce myself as the first presenter, the editor of the local newspaper that has a tradition of giving out All-County Scholar awards.
He was next up. As we both walked out soon after that, he didn’t say a word.
When I told my husband about it later, he said the guy was probably embarrassed.
Whether he intended to or not, my fellow presenter sent me a message. And I heard it, loud and clear. Newspapers have a bad-news image. It takes a lot of positives to overcome that kind of negative.
– – –
I was sharing some of this with Davey Overcash Friday while he was cutting my hair. Davey graduated from South Rowan, and he said he could understand why folks there might not welcome mention of Salisbury.
When he was growing up, he said, people got tired of being looked down on and called lintheads by city folks. Many of the parents in the South auditorium probably remember those days.
Things have changed. Most of the mills are gone. Some of the students in that audience probably don’t know what a linthead is.
Even adults who have moved into this region in the past couple of decades might not know how lint swirled through the air in cotton mills across the South for decades. It got caught in workers’ clothes and hair ó even on their eyelashes ó and led to the derogatory term, “linthead.”
Davey recalled giving haircuts in Landis early in his career. Workers would go straight from the mill to the barbershop when it was time for a trim. Davey started by combing the cotton out of their hair. He could tell they worked hard.
Worse than the lint in their hair and clothes was the lint that got into workers’ lungs. That lead to another term all too familiar in the South, “brown lung,” or byssinosis. The days when vibrant cotton mills drove the local economy had a down side.
Despite city-county frictions, the situation was the same in Salisbury. The city had its own mill hill, and several cotton mills operated in Salisbury.
But everyone likes to feel superior to someone, and high school rivalries have a way of feeding that impulse ó for a long, long time.
– – –
Back to my experience at Carson. The gentleman’s unsolicited opinion of newspapers came at the very time we’ve been seeking readers’ input.
In the paper, on our Web site and on my Facebook page, I’ve asked what readers want to see in the Salisbury Post. People have responded by e-mail, phone and letter.
Several say how much they enjoy the Post and then suggest features that would help them enjoy it more.
A few just cut to the chase and let us have it. That’s OK. Every comment is helpful.
I’ll try to follow up with a summary of the responses in a few weeks.
For now, this excerpt from reader Janet Dennis’ response sums most of them up:
“We want the same thing that we have always enjoyed the Post for providing. Local news.”
And more of it, judging by the majority of comments.
We hear you, loud and clear.
– – –
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post. E-mail her at editor@salisburypost.com or call 704-797-4244.

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