Monday, September 30, 2013

Fabulous Fifty(ies)

For many people of my vintage a major reflective moment occurs on the occasion of a 50th high school reunion.  As with just about everyone else who bothers to return for their reunion, I felt good about myself. If you don't, the whole shebang may prove too much to endure. But while we all had our moments of excruciating embarrassment in high school--and I certainly had my share--I've long remembered my high school days as when I had a whole lot of fun.

Not fun as in funny moments: that was my Army experience.  In the service, you remember funny moments because the other moments ranged in their degree of awfulness. But to me, high school was fun. And it was good to find out in the many, many conversations--some of which went beyond the standard superficialities--that many of my classmates also enjoyed high school.

The basis for the enjoyment was two-fold. First of all, in those days we had a great school system where many of the teachers were excellent, so you learned a lot. They challenged us. Now had I been somewhat more prescient, I would have seen then that the days of the great Mt. Vernon (NY) school system were drawing to a close. The demographics were changing as were the influences on the school system as well as the funding.

But second was the shift when I arrived in high school. Grade school and junior high were in many ways oppressive.  Yes, there also were some good teachers and classes, but there was a lot of restriction and regulation.  High school in those days was relatively relaxed so far as rules were concerned. And I got my day-time driving license and was off in a car for the first time, too.

Additionally, I met other bright people in high school who weren't afraid to act intelligently. I realized how different it probably is at my high school today. The current principal attended our 50th reunion and a few of us spoke with him. Aside from feeling that he looked all of 12 years old, he appeared to be a competent person who wanted to succeed. But I could see that he was amazed when we told him that we had enjoyed ourselves in high school.  The days when he can enjoy his job, given the pressures he faces of scant funding and poorly prepared students, are likely few.

The true fun of a public high school reunion for me also was in the range of people I knew then who showed up now.  I saw several classmates whom I had first known in grade school and hadn't seen in more than 50 years.  Unlike a whole group of my high school classmates who had gathered for a lunch at their old grade school--in the high-rent part of town, I went to a good elementary school but one that had more of a cross-section of socio-economic groups represented in its student body. 

That means that there were some pretty tough guys whom I knew in grade school. Some of those who came back had done all right for themselves. Several had gone into the computer and IT world.  One had retired as a fire department lieutenant.  Another pleasant fellow who had lived near me in junior high days had become a hedge-fund guy, and was retired and living quite well, thank you. And as it usually works out in life, the richest kid in high school was still the richest person in the room.

Many of the women with whom I had been friendly then looked good.  There were bright, ambitious women in my class and they did well for themselves in their careers and their lives. I enjoyed the chance to catch up with my high school girlfriend who now lives across the country and several other bright women in my class who have flourished. 

As for those in the class who had been the stand-outs in the looks department, I don't think now that any of them have much reason to be excessively full of themselves.   However, most of us seem to have aged gracefully. Some of us had less distance to fall, myself included.

Much of the class is retired now, of course.  A few I met shared my view that we have plenty of interests to pursue in our so-called leisure time, after finishing with all the tasks and errands of daily life. Granted, as it happens, as of today, I am likely to take on a full-time job doing something new that challenges me. The timing was purely coincidental, but perhaps the reunion did have something to do with it: maybe it just made me that much more confident that there's still an opportunity to do something useful.

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