20th High School Reunion a.k.a. We Should all Have Viking Names

This weekend I stepped through the looking glass and attended my 20th high school reunion in Marion, Arkansas here in the US. This is an odd ritual that we in the US perform to return to secondary school and see how everyone turned out. It was……the be blunt…..surreal. I know now that we do this to punish ourselves for apparently not being far enough off the grid. I was tracked down, found and invited and for some inexplicable reason, I went.

My plane ticket was the first sign that this was going to be strange. I left Seattle, had a layover in Denver and ended up landing in Memphis. Yes, this is the exact path of my migration west from where I grew up and represented the major cities that I lived in along the way. Too freakin’ weird.

I changed schools my 11th grade year and moved to live with my dad in West Memphis, Arkansas. West Memphis is best known for being the place where two great American highways cross. I-55 and I-40 meet up for a few miles, then go their own way, and create this magnificent “X” of concrete and asphalt that cuts the land like it was a alien ship just dropped form the sky. The good news is Memphis is only 15 minutes away and this was sort of like having a mini New Orleans close by and as a teen-age kid who wanted to play the blues this was a slice of pecan pie complete with ice cream.

My cast of characters at the reunion could rival any you could think of, I don’t care if you went to school in a mental institution, it must be something in the water or the food that’s all fried, in fact I swear I had fried water but no one told me what it was. Ours was a rural school and we were rural people, we lived on farms, ran restaurants, worked in factories lived out the blue collar American dream as best we could. But it seems now a few of us had made an art out of getting in trouble.

At the Flying Saucer beer emporium (yes, alien reference #2 but it’s the name of the place I swear) I approached a few people who couldn’t quite place me because I didn’t grow up there. Then, I found the person who was giving out the nametags with our high school pictures on it. Great, now they had me and from that moment on, I was no longer anonymous.

Complete with my earlier and slightly thinner version of myself pasted to my chest I set out to find some of my fellow inmates that I had been close to. The cast of characters was small, we were a small high school. But let me recount a few of the stand outs for me and give them names you’ll understand.

Kim the strong whom I swear could kick anyone’s ass although she doesn’t weigh anything but something about here just resonates strength inside and out.

Allison the doctor who seems to have an addiction to school, beside the PhD she teaches but wants to go into real estate and build houses she’s smart and fun.

Nancy the funny who drove 6hrs to be there but forgot sunscreen and we made fun of the sunburn the whole time but seems to really just enjoy life.

Jim the same who just didn’t really change at all as far as I could tell.

Mendy the tracker who apparently used dark secret powers to find me and bring me to the reunion but I rarely got to spend any time with.

Danny the quiet - who lived only 20 blocks from me in when I was Colorado and we didn’t know it.

Melissa the organizer – seems she and one other person really made all this happen.

Bill the missing great friend who wouldn’t come.

Kathy the friend I should have had - she left before I went to school but we laughed a ton in the hour or two we knew each other.

Lee the great – who was my best friend then and clearly a great friend now despite all the water under the bridge 20 yrs ago about me dating his sister and all J. This guy and I shared memories and time and knew each other in a way few people will know you. It’s a deep friendship and likely will continue now. He was the gem of the event for me and we told stories that are the makings of a Mark Twain novel and I’ll have to get these down on paper someday.

Yes they all sound like Viking names here and maybe they are. We came in remembering how we were and left remembering how we are.

I realized school was there to teach us how to learn and some basic subject matter that would allow us to at least go on to find a vocation and go on to be contributing citizens. But it was us….these people, not the school, that taught each other how to start to live. We were a social group of people who got along and people who didn’t and we were not a group of highly polarized clicks. We gave ourselves the kick start to go get jobs and communicate. This walk into the past reminded me about how schools in most places around the world neglect to teach us hot to get along with one another and instead probably rewarded the extroverts without helping the introverts. This is crazy.

The social aspects of learning are in my opinion just as important as the subject matter. School leads to work and work is all about people for 99% of everyone who takes a job. My achievements have been about my experience and my skill with people. Even ig you are the most hardcore software developer, living in a cave at some point you have to sneak out to the light of day and share your work if you want to earn a living. However, schools all over the world skip this subject. Go Figure.

After the pounding of Prince, U2, the Go Gos, Outfield and A-ha had left my ears and my head cleared the next morning I realized that I was coming out of the looking glass and heading home that day. I drove around and looked at where I’d lived and gone to school. I was saddened by the lack of change and tortured by the sameness. Physically nothing had changed in this place and I remember I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I wish the school had taught us more, I wish we’d been smart enough to ask it too.

In some ways that is why I do what I do here. Why I like working with students everyday and why I like seeing people all over the world be serious about this subject. I’m in a company that does great things and can make a big difference and there’s notway I won’t make sure it does. Goodnight Marion....Bill I hope you’re ok wherever you are.

Recap –

  1. 20th reunions are weird and carry an inordinate number of strange coincidences
  2. Everyone should have a Viking name (Joe the prolific)
  3. No one can dance as well as they used to
  4. Lost friends are good friends
  5. Schools are neglecting to help us learn to communicate and work together
  6. I will make a difference.

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