Exactly one year ago, I attempted to change my entire life to get ready for my 20th-year New Trier Class of ’89 high school reunion. Brought on by conflicting emotions of wanting to be accepted and faint memories of truly good times, my head was swimming in thoughts like:
“I’m at a good place in my life right now, so I wouldn’t feel ashamed to attend.”
“Some of my old friends will be there, and it will be great to catch up.”
“Hey, I still have all my hair and none of it is gray; maybe if I lose a few pounds I can look closer to how people remember me.”
I can already sense what you’re thinking, and you’re right, but I went ahead with the plan anyway. I joined Weight Watchers, and worked up the courage to look for a new job that would advance my career while being rewarding at the same time. Lost 30 pounds. Got the new job. Mission accomplished. Well, the reunion is right around the corner — and I will not be attending. Why?
While I have some genuinely fond memories of both high school and the friends I met there, it became increasingly clear towards the end (this is the obvious part) that, 20 years later, I was still chasing feelings of inadequacy. New Trier was (and might still be) one of the most competitive public schools in America, with more than 80% of students scoring well above the national average during the time I went there. (The top 1/4th of my class had a weighted GPA of 3.9, and the top 1/10th had a weighted GPA of 4.6 which sounds impossible until you realize their entire coursework consisted of AP classes.) It was one of the largest suburban public schools of the time, with a total student population of nearly 3800 when I attended. My graduating class was over 800 students, nearly all of them grossly better than I was in almost every area of academia. And in my head, then and now, I was trying to be accepted by everyone I personally knew, usually failing at the same time. That’s not healthy.
I asked friends for advice on whether or not I should attend, and got good advice. When asking ‘shouldn’t I go to catch up with old friends, etc.?’ the responses were along the lines of “Isn’t that what facebook is for?” or “You knew them for four years, then didn’t talk to them for twenty; why do you want to go again?” or “My reunion consisted of all the jocks and cheerleaders hanging out with each other while a few people sat alone at tables — just like high school!!”, etc. The most humbling reply was from a friend who lives within driving distance: “You don’t need a reunion to catch up with me; stop by any time.”
They’re all correct. You can never go back, and in my case, I shouldn’t want to go back. Still, in my head, it stings.
Many of my fellow classmates have gone in enviable directions. Without naming names(*):
- Our class valedictorian (and a friend of mine) went to Harvard and then scored in the financial industry in the 1990s
- My first girlfriend became a Rhodes scholar and got her doctorate in a literary field and now lives in the UK
- One friend who was always a better programmer than me leapfrogged me entirely by becoming an electrical engineer who also did low-level interfaces for embedded systems (some medical, I believe)
- Another friend got her masters in environmental engineering and is now a director at a California water company, championing water quality
- One of my oldest friends (even before we attended high school) entered one of the most selfless professions and became an educator (say what you want, that takes dedication and cajones)
- My senior prom date got her doctorate in a musical field and has composed and performed music heard by hundreds of thousands people
- One ludicrously talented composer and performer made the leap to Hollywood and married a brilliant mathematician (and actress)
…and the list goes on. Compared to them, I could feel like a failure.
But I’ve done well too, in my own way. There is a dumb yet succinct saying that goes “The only person who can make you angry is you.” It took me a long time to realize that applies to how you feel good about yourself as well. So here’s where I bring the reunion to me, and tell any fellow Trevians who happen to catch this blog post how I’ve been doing:
So that’s me since high school in a nutshell. Nice to see you again.
In honor of the positive times I had at New Trier, I’ve done two things. First, I’ve uploaded some photos of me during that time with friends to facebook, and I’ve tried to tag them where possible. (They should be viewable even if you don’t have a facebook account.) Secondly, and of substantially more interest to my typical nerdly blog readers, I’ve made available a transcription of the New Trier High School Fight Song played at every home game — as rendered by Music Construction Set running on a Tandy 1000 in loving 3-voice dampened square waves. Seriously.
Hey, I’ve still got my hair. That’s gotta count for something.
Jim and Jim^2, separated by 20 years
Whoa — is it me, or did it just get fatter in here?
(*) Names available upon request