Today is a day for me to reflect. Twenty years ago, I graduated from high school. I remember the day well. My 300 or so classmates and I gathered, resplendent in the white formalwear that represented the last gasp of an ancient school tradition.
Thirteen years earlier, I had stood shoulder to some of those same classmates, looking up at Mrs. Deghi as she looked over her shoulder at us and pointed to the 28 above the door to the Kindergarten classroom through which we were to walk for the first time. Yes, some of those kindergarteners were still with me. Some had left over the intervening years. Others had joined us, our numbers rising and falling until ultimately, we became that graduating class. (This truth is not lost on me as my own son prepares to start Kindergarten in the fall.)
Our class logo, made from tissue flowers of crimson and grey, black and white filled the green circle of grass at the center of the hillside amphitheater. Our band played. Our leaders spoke. We received our diplomas, and then, at the end of it all, we graduated. Without the traditional academic garb, there were no mortar board caps to throw into the sky. Instead, we left our seats to encircle the logo and we sang our alma mater. Then, as one, we waded into the logo, the tissue flowers ceasing to be a unified image and scattering just as we, the Leviathans, The Great Ones, The Eagle Rock High School Class of 1991 would soon disperse into adulthood.
I find it hard to believe that two full decades have slipped by since that day. I find it hard to believe that I am closer in time to my children’s high school graduations than my own. I find it hard to believe that some of my classmates could already have attended their own children’s graduations. (I don’t know if any have, but it’s possible.) I find it hard to believe that I’ve spent more than half my life as an adult.
And yet, high school still stands out as a time of unique and powerful memories, not just for me, but for many others. For the vast majority of us, high school is the last nearly universal thing we encounter in our culture. After high school, some go on to further education and one or another of many types of institutions, each with its own set of experiences. Some of us go straight to work. Some join the military, and some just take some time to figure out what they’re doing next. Whatever the “next step”, we were all coming from a common place.
We had all had that experience of high school, and whatever our social group, whatever labels, we may have had applied to us, we were all children on the verge of adulthood. We were all to one degree or another, not quite free of adult authority over us, but all too aware of the freedom that sat tantalizingly on the other side of the child/adult divide. We were chomping at the bit to be released, to charge forth and make our marks on the world.
Perhaps that’s why everyone seems to remember high school Those years, with their shifting mixture of realism born of knowledge and youthful idealism are a glimpse of that possible, and in that crucible, the passions of youth burn brighter, searing memories into our consciousness. The friend would never leave. The adversaries would alwas be so. The loves would never die and the broken hearts that would never mend. The hurts that would never heal and the victories would never fade. Those memories, those dreams burn bright on the receding horizon, merging into that one flame, that one beacon that is high school.
Now, it doesn’t serve us well to dwell in the past, but at certain times, we have opportunities to look back, to have that bright beacon of memory separate into its component parts. Some memories aren’t worth remembering; the pettiness, the minor hurts, the pointless squabbles. Some might require healing. Some can be placed in a box labeled “sentimental”. But then there are special ones, the ones that show us who we were, what we aspired to. There are memories that speak to our youthful idealism, to the best, purest parts of our being. They are naïve and innocent, but they tell the story of who we were and what we wanted for our futures and they are worth grasping again, not for the sake of living in the past or abandoning a good present for an idealized future, but for the sake of reaching into that fire of our youth and bringing it to bear to serve us in our present and our future.
And so, to my fellow Leviathans, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of our graduation, I convey a wish, a hope that whatever our circumstances we would never forget who we were and what we can learn from those people to make our lives and the lives of those around us better.
And of course, live long and prosper.