As this month has ticked by I’ve been increasingly aware of the date. Not because of any impending event or activity, but because it represents a moment for nostalgia. I’m thinking about May of 1991. Twenty years ago. When I graduated from High School.
As a seventeen year old senior, I remember thinking that I’d be thirty-seven at my twenty year reunion, and that was really old. There were two large errors in that assumption. First off, thirty-seven is far from old. And secondly, there’s no twenty-year high-school reunion on the horizon. Which brings me nicely to my point.
My High School experience was a lie. The perspectives it gave me on the world. The things it taught me. The people I spent time with. Ultimately, they were all proven irrelevant for my adult life. I realize that High School is a rite of passage and a necessary evil, but I experienced it at a fever pitch of breathless importance and it was wasted anxiety and breath.
I went to a small private school, and even in this secluded world our class was singled out as special and uniquely important. Teachers, Parents, and eventually other students talked about how close we all were. We were the class with no cliques. Real friendship and love for each other. I remember looking around at the time and thinking “Really? Cause I can tell you who the popular kids are and they aren’t looking for new members.” Now I look back and see how it was completely untrue. Other classes have stayed in touch. Had reunions. Kept up to date. We’ve never had so much as a dinner in twenty years. By the time I left college even the people I was good friends with in my HS class had dropped completely off my radar.
Until Facebook, of course, which ultimately closed the importance of High School with the smack of a pine-coffin lid. Because the only reason I can think of to reunite with people you haven’t seen since High School graduation is to see who got bald, who got fat, who succeeded and who failed. Morbid? Sure. But I’m yet to meet a single person who hasn’t obsessed over their weight, their outfit, or their story for an upcoming walk down the memory lane of High School. And wasting so much effort to impress those people is just High School all over again. Facebook nicely removes the hassle and expense of traveling to the event and the awkwardness of standing around trying to find something to say to someone you haven’t seen in two decades. Yet you can still tell the folks who bettered themselves, and those who are looking back on High School as the best time of their lives.
Seeing High School as a season, and not a milestone, is the main thing I’m pondering in all this. I know people who look back on it fondly. I know folks who hated it and look back with disdain. Obviously, I’m on the board of directors for the second group. But either way it’s four years which are given huge importance by our culture and then fueled to greater heights by the hormone addled, selfish teenagers who fill the hallways. I spent a year in Norway as part of the popular athlete crowd. I spent three years in Houston as part of the lower-society weird folk. And neither one of them offered any satisfaction or clear picture of the person I would become.
My son is too young for school, and still young enough to not really have friends or play-dates to give him social pressures. And if I can only offer him one thing as he marches into and through his school years, I hope I can help him find perspective. He won’t listen most of the time, I realize, but if I can just get through now and then maybe he’ll realize that who you are in school doesn’t dictate who you can become.
My accomplishments, struggles, and daily life are nothing like I imagined or believed they would be when I was seventeen. I’ve seen and done things which would probably seem impressive to that acne-plagued version of myself, but they would also sound like the life of someone else. High School was a bubble with poor ventilation. Real life and fresh air came later.
Am I a good man? Am I a success? These are questions other people will have to say. I’m happy. I’m blessed. I’m very different than High School suggested, and far better. Maybe everyone feels that way, but I suspect they don’t.
Life isn’t perfect, of course. There are things I’d change. Struggles I face that would have made my high school head explode. But I’ve lived more than twice as long as that kid in High School, and it’s the perspective that makes all the difference. I hope and strive to revel in the highs of my daily life. They are there, even when I ignore them to obsess over something that seems important but is actually irrelevant.
Like High School.