A Talk at the 30 Year High School Reunion

Note: I include this as a post on my blogsite mostly for those classmates of mine who would like to see it. Don’t know if it will make sense for other readers–parts of it will, perhaps, others not so much. For example, to get the opening gag, you’d have to know that I now teach high school English at my Alma Mater. And the names of all of these teachers who have passed will be meaningless to those outside our class–except for the fact that, if you graduated from high school 30 years ago or more, and your school had a teaching staff as seasoned as the one we had, your list would likely be just as long. At any rate, to my classmates and to anyone else interested in what one might say after 30 years, here goes:

A Talk at the 30 Year High School Reunion
August 9, 2013

So they tell me 30 years have passed since we all graduated from high school. Can that be right? Is it possible? Personally, I don’t think it’s possible. After all, I’m still in that building every day. I’m still there. Where have you all been? They won’t let me graduate. But there has been a strange transition, though, since all of you left me there. They’re now paying me to hang around. For 24 years now, they’ve paid me to keep hanging around! I don’t know what that means. They must like me.

I told y’all in a facebook post that I was a little sad that after 30 years I have all but completely lost touch with most of you. I have close relationships now with as many classmates as I could count on one hand. I’m still married to one of them: 27 years people! And I work with one of them. The other 3 have become distant to me—either by geography or some other kind of distance, mysterious, inexplicable. A few of you are friends of mine on facebook, and of those, a small handful of you are in regular communication with me, but most of that communication is indirect, not personally directed at me, you know, the way facebook posts usually are. Here’s a picture of my food. My kid learned to ride a bike today. I’m traveling in France. Here’s a picture of me camping. This is my cat, dog, chicken. Here’s a link to an article, or a video, or a piece of music that I dig. It’s mostly on the surface, kind of superficial; fun, but not a lot of substance. So, in this facebook post to the Reunion List, I requested that people send me some short message about their journey over the last 30 years—so that rather than some kind of nostalgia trip—I could instead talk about where we’ve traveled AFTER 1983—it just seemed more interesting to me. 6 of you responded—and from those six responses I picked up some info about the last 30 years, and a few pieces of wisdom about life after high school. I think, despite the small sample, in one way or another my findings are applicable to all of us.

First, in these few responses, there’s a wide variety of descriptors about the last 30 years: challenging, rewarding, surprising, heartbreaking, and wonderful, all those from the same individual; I read about a religious faith without which one of our classmates said that “the hardships would have been too hard and the joys not nearly so sweet.” And another individual described the driving forces in her life: God, family, health and competition, an extra dose of fun and adventure, and the discovery of a kind of selflessness that would lead her to be an adoptive parent and an activist in the plight of the orphan. One of our classmates says he’s got the “best job in the world, his wife is awesome, and he has fun every day.”

And then there were a couple of words of wisdom.

The first one is a kind of rebuttle to the old truism, or to the wisdom that most of us can identify with and agree with on many levels—that sometimes we get stuck always wondering what it would be like if we had made a different choice than the one we made, not this job, but that one, not this town, but that one, not this house, but that one, not this partner, but that one, or no partner. We are told that this is a fool’s game, a trap, a diversion from true happiness. But here’s the thing: sometimes the grass IS greener, and this particular classmate of ours, as I’m sure many others of us have, had the courage to make a difficult decision toward change —and is now happier, more content, more fulfilled than she has been perhaps in 30 years.

The second piece of wisdom is related to this, I think, because it is about change, but mostly surprise about how things CAN work out. I’m going to quote this directly, because it’s really good: “Plans were made well, laid well, and paid (for) well, but led nowhere save straight into a brick wall . . . and yet, when the dust cleared, I somehow found myself on a path far better than anything I’d imagined.” There you have it. Many of us have learned that the only way out of the difficult stuff life throws us—is straight through. With patience, grace, hope, love, good things happen.

The only constant in the universe—so they tell us—is change. And by now, we have had our fill of it, I’m sure. We got educated or trained; we got schooled. We adapted to technology—email and the internet would not become ubiquitous until after our 10 year reunion! We got married. We became parents, some of us early, some of us very late. My son is 7, while many of us are sending children off to college. And while parenting is joyful; it’s also likely the most difficult job on the planet. They didn’t tell us about that, did they? We changed jobs. We changed our socio-economic status—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse–either by choices we’ve made, luck we’ve had or not, or the vicissitudes of a faltering economy. Some of us have been divorced, some remarried. By now, we’ve all lost people. Eleven of our classmates have passed—and I don’t know their individual stories, but I look at their pictures, and even if I didn’t know them at all, I feel the loss and know our world is diminished without them in it. We’ve lost teachers—many of those dear people who ushered us into adulthood are gone. Mae Krause, Kelly Hood, Deanna Hutton, Fritz Fivian, Sally Collins, Joan Strandholm, Bill Olund, Sister Helena Brand, Ken Evans, John Pike, Ann Peery, Joella Checketts, Mike Haller, Wayne Johnston, Sharon Heinz Borhman, Randy Bethke, Don McClusky, Jack McGoldrick, Bill Foelker, Roger Thompson, Wally Rogelstad, Alec Herauf, Gene O’Brien, Galen Spillum. And a man who was not with us as students, but nevertheless touched many of our lives deeply: Steve Quinn. What gifts they gave to us. Those gifts we carry to the end of our own days. And finally, perhaps the most difficult—many of us, if we are not now parenting our parents, have lost them, one or both. I don’t know this, but it is possible that some of us have lost siblings, and some of us have lost spouses, or children—and if that is true for you or for someone you know from our group, our deepest and most sincere condolences go to you. These losses in families are truly the most difficult losses.

From what I have seen of it, getting old kind of sucks. It is not for the faint of heart. But we are not old! Look around! As we head forward into the rest of our lives, holy crap, into, perhaps, the last third of our lives, let us be thankful for this evening and for this gathering; let us continue to move courageously through this life’s journey; let us not fall into complacency or apathy; let us keep learning; let us be engaged in our families and in our communities—and in our society. We will need advocates—but as long as we are able we must advocate for ourselves—and that becomes more evident every day. Another wish I have for you, for all of us: Maybe some of you saw this recently, but there’s a new study in which two Michigan State University biologists found that evolutionary biology does not reward selfish people and that over time, cooperative “nice guys and gals” finish first. Kindness is all. Love is all. And a last minute piece of wisdom from our classmate Rhonda, forgiveness is all. So let us be kind, loving, and forgiving, and we will finish first, we will come out ahead.

My last wish for all of us comes from a 19th century French Romantic poet, Charles Baudelaire. Let me read you this poem.

Be Drunk
by Charles Baudelaire
You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

We have a lot more living to do. So let’s rock this mother. Thank you.

12 Comments

Filed under Culture, Education, Poetry, Teaching

12 responses to “A Talk at the 30 Year High School Reunion

  1. Mr. Jammin Jarmer…. Alan V. here… Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to the BIG Party.
    Thanks for the blog. I have found that over time “little things” really don’t matter much, but rather what you do to overcome, perservere, or forgive and forget really make the difference. My lovely wife and I have just celebrated our 25th anniversary and we are BEST Friends! That’s what really matters. Family really matters… Your folks, brothers, sisters aunts and uncles. Seems every family is “Strange” or Disfunctional is some respects, but who are you going to turn to when Life deals you a major BLOW??? God, Family, and good friends can be your Rock and strength.
    I am blessed to have such a great family with one son, who I adopted early on and a wonderful daughter. Our family is Strong in our Love for one another and we are truly blessed.
    As you mentioned, getting old Sucks… We have a 92 r. old father in law who is a wonderful man but just can’t do the same things he used too. Understanding that and asking for help is tough and so are the days filled with pain one suffers each and everyday. To truly Love is to help those whom are in there later years and enjoy the time you get to spend with them, as nobody get to have that “TIME” back and you never want to say “what if” or “I should have” when you can do it now!
    Rock on, my friend and keep those little horny bastards LEARNING each and every day you get the chance to help fill there minds with Knowledge. As we all know, KNOWLEDGE is power and can Never be taken away from you!
    Alan Vezzani

  2. Tracey

    Mike your speech at the reunion was heartfelt, humorous, touching and just plain awesome. Thank you for taking the time to put together such a touching tribute to our class and teachers. We also lost Gene O’Brien who was one of my favorites….perhaps next time we don’t wait 10 years but 5. Life is fleeting and 10 years, at our age, just seems like too long anymore.
    Tracey Oberg

  3. Shiela

    Hi, sir! thank you for this article, wonderfully written, lots of hints…makes my job easier. Can’t help but admire… God bless! I am from the Philippines.

  4. Christine

    Wow I have to say what amazing speech to your class!!! I truly believe in love, kindness, and forgiveness. But the reason I had to respond to this is because I believe in “Being Drunk” every day. I do it with words, actions, and my mind & heart. Thank you for that!. I want to share some of your thoughts at my upcoming 30th Class Reunion next year if you do not mind.

    Christine
    Always Drunk on Life

  5. ElizabethS

    Michael,
    Thank you for your fabulous words. I attended my 40th high school reunion this past July, and for a couple months before I was digging out old photos, memorabilia. I got happily lost in the 70’s, and created a fun slide show that started in Kindergarten and took us through our 30th reunion. I had so many thoughts in my head, feelings, memories, realizations; some rather profound, some just plain silly. After I read your “speech,” and got in your rhythm, mine thoughts started rolling out, coming together. It was cool. So thank you – your words where music, my “old” classmates and I enjoyed a dance.
    Looking forward. ~Elizabeth

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