June 3, 2015 by Jean
My high school experience was a bit unusual because we were the first class in a brand new high school. When Bishop Feehan High School opened its doors in September 1961, it was to about 200 9th graders with only 6 teachers, Sisters of Mercy, who each taught six periods per day, were responsible for multiple subjects, and also took charge of various after-school activities. Although our classes were scheduled by ability groups, so that any individual ended up taking classes with the same subset of the class over and over again, homerooms were organized so that, by the time we graduated, everyone in the class had an opportunity to get to know one another. We were also bonded by the trials of beginning high school cramped into a few finished classrooms on an active construction site. So, despite the usual cliques and social categories of high school (I was what was then called “a brain,” before the term “nerd” came into common usage), our class was close.
The reunion committee, helped by staff from the high school, did a brilliant job of organizing this reunion, which had two parts. On Thursday evening, there was a ceremony, part of the high school’s 51st graduation, in which members of the first graduating class were presented with “golden diplomas.” We sat at the front of the auditorium, facing the graduates, and our part in the proceedings was short enough that it added some extra pomp and circumstance without feeling like we had stolen their special event. Friday featured a buffet lunch at a nearby country club, with lots of opportunity for informal socializing. This was a smart choice that made it possible for those who can’t drive after dark or who would be uncomfortable at a more formal dinner event to come. (I heard one friend tell a member of the reunion committee that he was recently widowed and wouldn’t have come to an evening dinner.)
The Friday buffet lunch was the main event, a chance to socialize with classmates. The extraverts and introverts sorted themselves out as they often do on such occasions, with the extraverts working the room, moving from group to group and trying to talk to everyone by the end of the day, while the introverts found a cluster of congenial friends for more sustained conversation. I was one of the introverts and enjoyed the chance to get caught up with an old friend whom I haven’t stayed in touch with over the years. I was also grateful to the extraverts who came by our table and gave me a chance to visit with them. The people I missed connecting with, of course, were other introverts that I wasn’t sitting with.
As I so often do at events like this, I brought my camera with me and then took only one picture (above). The fact is that I am uncomfortable taking pictures of people because I feel like I’m intruding. Maybe it’s time to just accept this about myself and leave my camera at home, where I can use it to my heart’s content to take pictures of plants (who never object to having their pictures taken).
Four of our teachers (two of them just out of college when they began teaching us) attended the Friday lunch and said a few words about the experience of teaching at a new school, where they were all stretched to take on responsibilities outside their expertise. It had never occurred to me in high school to consider how challenging their responsibilities were, how hard they were working, or how terrified they sometimes were; and it was interesting to hear about all this from the perspective of my own 40 years of teaching experience. One of the teachers present was a favorite of mine. (Well, actually, she was almost everyone’s favorite – the cool, beautiful, young teacher that many of us had a crush on.) I hadn’t seen her in more than 40 years, but I felt a deep sense of friendship and connection.
There were, inevitably, a few awkward moments. I upset one classmate whom I hadn’t seen in several decades by sharing a fond memory of her extraordinary singing talent only to find that it was a painful memory for her because illness had taken away her ability to sing. What struck me most, though, was how easy the interactions were. I found my classmates much more complex, interesting, kind and likeable people than they were fifty years ago. If anyone needed evidence that we had gotten better with age, this was it! As I talked with an old friend that I have been out of touch with for many years, we discovered that we have far more in common now than we did when we were younger (despite lots of superficial differences in our lives). I have struck up a friendship on Facebook with another classmate whom I barely knew when I was in school.
I know that people are often wary of reunions. They can reawaken old hurts and bring back painful memories, or one can look around and see what (and who) has been lost. None of that was true for me at this reunion. I felt enriched by reawakened memories, rekindled friendships, and new acquaintances, all reaffirming my sense that this is a special time of life.