Maybe one day I can have a reunion with myself. ~Sebastian Bach
To be quite honest, I was a little apprehensive about attending my 50th high school reunion, and for a number of reasons. First of all, 50 years is a heck of a long time, half a century to be exact, and the world has changed dramatically since that year in 1966 when 300 of us were seniors at Arroyo Grande High School in central California. And years change things, especially people and relationships.
Not to mention that I now live in London, England and that means a very long flight to Los Angeles and a 3 hour drive north up Hiway 101. Jet lag would only make the entire experience that much weirder. Plus the fact that while most of the kids grew up going to grammar school and high school together, I came from another school district a long way away and only spent one year, my senior year, with these people.
For the past few months during the run up to the reunion, I began to recall events and people from that year. Some memories were sad. Especially the one about a very unique boy I played football with, Pete Segundo, a US Marine who unfortunately was killed by friendly fire in Vietnam when he was only 23 years old. And
several others who passed away between graduation and now. A very stark reminder of the reality of our short life on this earth.
But also many happy memories came flooding back as well. The day a few of us “rowdies” put the desk of Mr. Gibbons, our math teacher, out in the hallway just before class. He was livid, but we survived and had fun with that memory for the rest of the year. In fact our next prank was to turn the entire room around, with our desks facing away from the teacher’s.
And of course there were memories of my adventures, and misadventures as a member of the varsity football and baseball teams, the band, and especially the challenges of school dances and dating. Being the new kid in school presented me with a choice, either hang back, do my school work and just get the year over with, or step up, make friends and get integrated. I chose to step up and get involved, the first of many of life choices I was to face.
So my wife and I showed up at the 50th Reunion and thankfully my best friend in high school, Mark McNeil (I was best man at his wedding, but missed the ceremony – a long story for another time) and I had been communicating on Facebook and emails, so at least I had one anchor point for the weekend.
Would they remember me? Would they remember me fondly? Would they recognize me? Would I recognize them? How to avoid those awkward moments when they seem to remember you but you can’t place them? And what to talk about?
The mind can certainly go off in some weird directions, but when we arrived at the first of three gatherings that weekend, a strange thing happened. It was like 50 years of being apart melted away and we were laughing, hugging, introducing spouses, sharing stories. It was amazing to me how many old memories came flooding back; things I had totally “forgotten” and not talked about in decades. And surprisingly, the exchange student that attended our school from Switzerland that year showed up.. Guess we made an impression on him as well!
The nice part of the weekend was that my choice of stepping in proved to be the right one as many people commented on how I had influenced them during that senior year, whether on the sports fields or in the classroom. (Not all my life choices have turned out so well).
One of the highlights of the weekend was the celebration during the gala evening of all those who served in the military from our class. You have to remember that we graduated in 1966, the height of the build up of the Vietnam War. Not a popular war in the US by any means, and yet a large percentage of men and women from my graduating class signed up and served. And then we remembered the three who didn’t return. Not a dry eye in the house as you can imagine.
I came away from that weekend with a great sense of gratitude (I am very grateful that my wife went with me as I’m not certain I could have faced it alone). Grateful for the many good memories and renewed friendships. Grateful for the solid education I received that year. Grateful for all the laughter; certainly more in that one weekend than I have had in a long time. Grateful for having grown up in a small and tight community where everyone knew and watched out for each other, something that is rapidly disappearing in this country.
So, to all my Arroyo Grande High School Class of 1966 classmates, thank you for a wonderful weekend and a confirmation that:
There is always time for old friends.
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!