From the Beardstown High School Class of 1995

My hometown of Beardstown has a tradition of holding a class reunion each summer at the high school.  We operate on five year increments, so this year welcomed the class of 1985, 1990, 1995, etc.  The alumni association holds a wonderful banquet at the school, and each graduating class submits a few words to be collected in the the program.  This year is my 20th anniversary, and I’m honored to have been chosen to write our class’ response.  While it’s written for those who have graduated from Beardstown High School, I think it applies to any and all high school graduates, both old and new alike …

One wouldn’t think much could change in 20 years, yet the world is a vastly different place than in 1995.  In those days watching a movie at home meant popping in a VHS tape.  Listening to music required a CD or cassette.  And if you wanted to connect with someone, you called them on the telephone or visited them in person.

Now here we are in 2015, and some could argue we are connected more than ever.  After all, thanks to social media, we regularly learn of our friends’ new career paths, see pictures of each other’s children, and share in the knowledge of nightly dinner choices.

Yet, oddly enough, even with the hourly deluge of updates and news, many feel separated by an impersonal gulf, a digital barricade that reduces us to no more than a thumbnail-sized persona upon mobile devices.  We have “friends,” but do we have friends?

Technologically speaking, 2015 surpasses 1995 in every conceivable way—pagers, anyone?  However, there’s something we excelled at in 1995, something no amount of tinkering can improve upon.  We were together.  We cruised the strip for hours, loitering in parking lots, and when we were run off, we simply regrouped somewhere else.  We went to each other’s homes.  We walked together just for something to do.  We shook hands using elaborate methods that surely rivaled the complexity of contemporary DNA sequencing.  We hugged.  In other words, we spent time together.  Not through some digitized ether, but rather, side-by-side, arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand.

As we grow older, we realize that with age does indeed come wisdom.  (This may be the appropriate moment to pause and apologize to our parents and grandparents.)  Perhaps we are not any more academically intelligent than on Graduation Day, but all of us have endured 20 years’ of life, and with that has come victory and defeat, love and loss, life and death—all of which equates to experience, which, most would contend, is the bedrock of wisdom.  Humanity flourishes most when it bands together, when it decides a village can raise a child better than an individual, that honoring a neighbor also results in personal valor.  Unity propagates achievement.

This simple fact is why we must strive to reunite.  No matter the year of graduation, returning to our roots, coming back to each other, and reconnecting with those who grew up beside us—it revitalizes.  It keeps us humble.  It helps us remember not only where we’ve been, but also where we want to go.  It allows us the opportunity to reflect upon our own achievements, and also to celebrate our peers’ successes.

Adulthood has taught us that we are in this thing called “life” together.  We must remain connected.  And if we’ve disconnected, now is the time to reconnect.

To the class of 2015, we implore you to always stay in touch, to gain wisdom through living well, and to come back home.

Always come back home.

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Ring In the Past

Several months ago I realized I had no idea where to find my class ring.  (Now keep in mind I’m thirty-five.)  At first I didn’t understand why I felt so disappointed that I’d lost it.  Frankly, as an eighteen year old, I couldn’t wait to leave high school behind and everything that it entailed, including my class ring.  I honestly don’t remember once thinking about it between the ages of eighteen and thirty-three.

But then, after taking two years off from teaching to stay home with my newborn daughter, I returned to instructing high school English and noticed how excited the kids were when it came time to order class rings.  I’d always considered them kind of silly as a teacher and a way to fleece young people—a racket, in other words, and a worthless investment at that.

However, I soon found myself feeling nostalgic, and that’s when I realized I had no clue where to find my own class ring.  Of course, as we are wont to do, the minute we don’t have something we want it all the more.  But as I thought about it harder, I realized it wasn’t just my class ring I missed, but my whole sense of a past self.  I have a difficult time remembering things from my personal history, for some odd reason, and the older I become the more I forget about my youth.  I’ve actually had high school friends tell me stories I don’t recall at all.  It’s always bothered me that I don’t remember the old me very well, and when I realized I’d lost my class ring—the most potent physical manifestation of high school to exist—I sincerely felt that I’d let the “high school me” down yet again.

This story does have a happy ending, though.  This weekend (January 14, 2012), my wife, three year old, and I were digging through my closet looking for a toy I thought my little girl would enjoy.  I came across an old box on the top shelf and pulled it down.  Even as I saw all of my old high school track medals and ribbons, it never dawned on me to even hope I would find it, but there it was—my class ring.  I don’t think my wife and daughter had any idea why I was so excited, but for a guy who constantly feels disconnected to his own past, this was quite a victory.  The minute I picked it up I sensed an instant connection.

Looking back, I don’t know why I was in such a hurry to get out of high school.  Those memories I do have from my time as a Tiger are almost entirely happy ones.  I had great friends, a good education, and an ideal home life.  I think I was simply eager to get started on my future (I’ve always been a bit anxious).  Now that my future is here, now that I’m the man I want to be, now that I have an amazing life that I surely don’t deserve, I want to go back and tell my high school self to relax, to live in the moment, to pay closer attention to things, and to keep track of that class ring!