Farewell to Hallmark

Last week I took a quick trip to Greenfield Massachusetts. The timing was perfect because the beautiful fall leaves hung around just long enough for me to get to enjoy them. And then oddly enough it snowed, which was a great surprise for this southern girl. Greenfield is a special place for me because I lived there for year between 2000 and 2001. So to me, this place has a very homelike feel. I have friends there that I met while living there and I try to go back every so often.

In case you don’t know why I lived there for a year, it was because I went to a photography school called Hallmark Institute of Photography. Hallmark taught us photography, business and so many other things during this year. It is actually a 10 month program and during these 10 months you complete 1400 class hours and if you pass your very stressful portfolio review then you leave with a certificate in photography, a ton of knowledge, and an amazing network of teachers and alumni that you can tap into if you choose to.

Just last year my class had a reunion and we got to sit around, reminisce and catch up on each others lives. It was great. We are all very different people from so many different places but somehow that shared experience seems to give us all a pretty strong connection. At the end of the reunion, the ones of us that made it there decided we would definitely have another in 5 years.

So if you are doing the math you have figured out by now that this was much sooner than 5 years later and here I am back at my old “home”. This trip was unexpected and incredibly bittersweet. Hallmark announced a few months ago, that they would be closing their doors after this final 2016 graduation. Since I am an extremely sentimental person I take any chance I can to see people I care about so I couldn’t pass up going to this graduation.

I don’t want to go deeply into this but I feel I should add a bit about the closing of the school due to the fact that there were lots of random articles, facebook posts, rumors and stipulation going around that once I was at Hallmark I found were mostly untrue. The school wasn’t doing bad or losing students or “going under”. The final graduating class had 10 students, which to some of us seemed crazy since our classes were over 100. But once I got to Hallmark for my visit and actually had conversations with people who are still involved in the school and know much more than the people just posting things online that haven’t been back since their own graduation, I learned that that isn’t such an odd thing for the January class. Those classes are typically smaller. You see Hallmark graduates two classes a year now as oppose to the 1 class they did back when I was there. The truth is the school had been bought by a large corporation years ago and for whatever reason this corporation decided they wanted to close the school. The sad thing is that the school is still wonderful. The school has done great things for the dreams and careers of the people coming in and going out of it. But this corporation had no real connection or feelings towards the school. It was just something they’ve decided to sell. They actually had at least 3 offers for the actual school from what I was told and they just didn’t really pay attention to any of them. They want to sell the building for a very large chunk and be done. There were rumors of people coming in and buying things and saving the day but from what I have been told that was just not followed through with in a real way from the beginning and isn’t happening at all. These are what break my heart. If someone who actually knew about or cared for this school and just how great it is owned it, this would not be happening or it could have easily been sold.

But that’s enough of that. First to all of you alumni, I can’t even begin to explain the feeling in my stomach when I pulled past the administration building, which our class had labs and classes in, and there was a massive for sale sign beside the Hallmark sign. But once you get to the new building and see this staff, who have been disregarded by the owners, still working their tails off for this school and the final class you just can’t help but be proud. Its still a school with amazingly talented teachers and the program is so much better than it was when I was there, and it was pretty damn great then.

The graduation was moving to say the least. There were only three alumni from our class from 15 years ago but there was a great turnout of alumni there to show support. The speaker, Mark Denman, is also an alum and he must have listened well in his public speaking classes because what he said was moving and motivational. I just kept thinking, “man, this guy needs to come motivate me about once a month”. And imagine my surprise when I found out that he was from Nashville. Every teacher that spoke almost brought us to tears. (I’m not gonna lie, they totally brought me to tears).

I had booked my flight for pretty soon after graduation due to the fact that I needed to be home and not completely dead on Saturday morning. I thought I would have enough time to see graduation and then talk to people for a bit before leaving. But this graduation went 3 hours. Not three boring hours of boring awards and reading through hundreds of names. Remember there were only 10 students. It was 3 hours of motivation about photography and the world of photography. 3 hours of saying goodbye. 3 hours of advice for the graduates. 3 hours of some pretty funny stuff and 3 hours of making you proud of these students even though you didn’t even know them. Or at least I didn’t. I was so glad I was there to hear it all. It was moving and a great 50th and final graduation for our school. Unfortunately since I had a flight and didn’t anticipate the graduation being so long, I had to run up and hug everyone I knew as soon as it was over and run from the building to barely catch my flight. This flight home gave me  a very familiar feeling that I remember feeling as my parents drove me and my uhaul trailer away from Greenfield 15 years ago. It’s the end of something great. But as they said several times during graduation, the school building is gone, but the teachers and the network of alumni are still there for you to access. We are still Hallmark. And I am still incredibly proud to be a part of it.

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