There were many reasons why photographing the students at the lowest-performing school in the lowest-performing educational state in the country was too intriguing an opportunity to pass up. In a country where technology has made photographs ubiquitous, here was a place — Como Elementary School in Como, Miss. — where most of the children had never before had their picture taken. I also got the sense pictures had been few and far between for some of the adults as well.
When the kitchen staff came for their pictures, one of the women noticed the graduation gown that each of the graduating eighth graders had worn when I took their photos. I don’t think the gown’s color matched the school colors and the tassel featured the wrong year, but it was the only cap and gown that the principal could get her hands on. At any rate, when one of the kitchen workers caught sight of it, she asked if she could get her picture taken in the cap and gown. She told me that she had lost her senior picture in a fire.
I said yes, of course, not really thinking much about it. Until the next woman took her place and also asked if she could have her picture taken in the gown. She also told me that she had lost her graduation picture in a fire. It then struck me that maybe this woman — who had attended Como Elementary in her youth — had not actually graduated. Maybe she was just tickled by the idea of having this picture to share with friends and family. As I took this picture and saw the pride in her eyes, I wondered what she was thinking.
A little side-note: While at the school, I thoroughly enjoyed the cafeteria fare. Chatting with the kitchen staff, I learned that sugar was the ingredient that had changed tuna from fine to amazing. I know, shocking. Awesomely delicious? Absolutely.