50 Years. A half century.
Fifty years ago, and every year since, Sexton High School and thousands of other schools set onto the world a new generation of eighteen year-olds with big dreams and, in some cases, with big attitudes. And yet, though they would fight you tooth and nail on this – those graduates are still children wrapped in young adult bodies, now legally of age.
|Can you find me? It took me a long time!|
To be honest, I was pretty uncertain about attending my high school reunion, which is probably one of those life-passage things we must all do in time. Burying our parents. Going to really lousy middle school band concerts and trying to find something nice to say later. Choosing a career path – or two or three. Looking through tears at a doctor and asking, “Well, what’s the next step?”
Rites of passage.
I liked high school. My graduating class had 460 kids. I was a drama and choir geek and one of the pretty smart kids. Not the smartest, but smart enough. My circle of friends was older than I and younger by two years either way. Very few of my closest friends were in my class and of those who were at least two had died.
(Eighty-nine of my class members had died – close to twenty percent -- including my friend and neighbor, Mary, who was my freshman college roommate. She died in a plane crash before we even finished college.)
And yes, I was Facebook friends with a few, not many. But then, what does that mean, anyway?
Give me three reasons why I should go spend a fair amount of time with people I didn’t really know then, much less now?
Well, here you go. I lived in the same town as my school. Really, it wasn’t like having to fly across country, as so many would. Second, a woman I had come to know from the class in later years far better than in high school – Diane S. – was the one of the organizers. I knew they had worked hard on this event and I wanted to support it -- and her.
|I'm lucky to run into Diane at lots of Friends of Theatre gigs!|
And then she told me the “other Diane” – Diane M. – was coming from Texas. She was a theatre geek too. My people. I hadn’t seen her since high school but I always liked her and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to catch up.” That was the deal-breaker.
Like many reunions, ours included a meet-and-greet, which I skipped, and a tour of the high school, which I didn’t. I wrote about the school HERE. Wandering through there were memories and conversations about Miss Ludwig or Mr. Angus, where we met for homeroom and which of the recently painted lockers had been ours. If you read the previous post, you know that Drama Diane and I slipped away from the group to go in the basement of the auditorium where sets were built and actors dressed for our shows. It was a good afternoon.
And, that afternoon made me feel a bit less nervous about the evening dinner. I’d seen a few people I remembered well and looked forward to seeing them again.
It was an evening as one would expect, one many have already experienced. A buffet (vegetarian options available – did we even think about that when we were 18?). Cash bar with adequate house wine or beer. A caricaturist, displays with photos and memorabilia. The committee had done a lovely job.
|Ken decided he'd copy his caricature for his little boys to color!|
We circled around, touched base with each other. One friend who’d attended the tour that morning didn’t come. She was running a marathon the next day. Another had become a very successful artist and we talked about his painting workshops in a few weeks (I planned to go until I realized I had a doc appointment that day I couldn't change.) A girl I first met in sixth grade was an elegant woman who owned a resort in Northern Michigan (and yes, I will probably detour on one of my up-north road trips to have lunch with her.)
|Google Mark Mehaffey for a look at his fabulous art. Carole Benson Dennings now has a resort in Northern Michigan.|
A fellow I’d never talked with in high school (because he was one of the popular kids and – gasp! – on the football team) had a career restoring historic barns. I even saw the guy who was my first real date when we went to a concert by the Association. My friend Jean from church choir was a professional storyteller.
|Tom and I went to see the Association when we were sophomores or more likely juniors -- my first real date. He's retired now. Jean is a professional storyteller and librarian; I've known her since church choir in sixth grade!|
People came up to me, “I wondered if you would be here!” (I had no idea who they were then or now.) “I used to see you on television all the time. Have you retired?” (Who are you?)
And then I might just look at a name tag – each with our senior photo and name in large print (thank you!) – and realize just who that was. (And sometimes, not!)
They'd collected lots of memorabilia, like this program from "Diary of Anne Frank."
Boy, did that one bring back memories!
It was all good – and while I took off long before the last guests left, I was glad I’d attended. And, I was especially looking forward to brunch the next day with the Two Dianes and Tom, who had been in my home room.
The next morning we gathered at a local restaurant, one where we could stay awhile and catch up. I was FB friends with all three – and yet we all knew so little about each others’ lives. Not just jobs or family, but our lives, our thoughts.
We talked for close to three hours and not really about school, apart from how that defined us at one age and yet how far we were from the definition. The Drama Geeks. The Smart Ones. The Jocks. The Band Kids. A dozen labels that fit – and that didn’t.
Diane S., the class valedictorian, said guys came up to her at the reunion and said, “I always thought you were so cute – I had a crush on you.” “Why didn’t they tell me at the time?” she wondered.
Tom said he wasn’t in the photo of us all in our caps and gowns – he didn’t graduate with us. He was angry all through school for a lot of very good reasons, but not ones we knew about back then. He took it out on the football field. And maybe a few teachers. I had no idea.
I was the one who could only feel comfortable on stage and playing a part – because only a few people could see the real me. It took me a long time to be comfortable speaking in class or to someone I might have admired or even had a crush on.
|Barefoot in the Park|
Drama Diane, now in publishing, said she took philosophy as an elective. “They don’t teach that anymore. Why?”
We agreed, we could all have used a little more philosophical and critical thinking in high school and those years that followed. I suspect today's kids could use it too.
We graduated at the height of the Vietnam war, a war that took my high school boyfriend into the Air Force. That same war took me to war protests on campus. The relationship didn’t end well. I wish he’d come to the reunion. I would have apologized to him for not understanding what he experienced.
|I wish Ron had come to the reunion. I know more now about what he must have experienced in Vietnam.|
After high school, we learned to live independently. For many of us, it was first in a dorm, then an apartment, then either on our own or in a relationship. We learned how to be responsible and the consequences when we weren’t. We went our own ways – sometimes staying in the fields we chose at 18 and more often, evolving into other interests and passions.
I think we became even more real to one another than we may have been before. I know so much more about all these people than I did – not just what they do, but who they are. The one who surprised me most was Tom, the one I had known least. The angry one who didn’t graduate. But he wasn't angry now. And boy, was he smart. Wise. The one who had learned the power of negotiation and compromise as a union steward and the importance of standing up for what was right.
From all this I have discovered something very important about attending a class reunion, a lesson I am happy to share with anyone who will listen. It isn’t just about getting to catch up with the people you knew, but to discover those you didn’t know so well. In revisiting those times gone by, we were all afforded the opportunity to step back and look at ourselves and how we’ve evolved in those 50 years. Wins. Losses. Life. It shows on our faces, our hips, our words, our thoughts.
And what’s ahead? For all of us, there will be the challenges of age. I think all four of us had health issues we didn't talk about at breakfast and no doubt, more to come as we age. We may discover new interests or work as long as possible. We will see our peers die and others thrive in retirement.
As for Tom? He said he wanted to be a lumberjack and saw wood and enjoy doing that with his sons.