A friend tagged me in a post on Facebook and my face stared in disbelief as I read the comments.
“Hi everyone! It’s that time! That’s right: it’s been 40 years since we graduated from Oak Harbor high school!!! Does anyone know if they are planning a reunion in the summer of 2019?”
First of all, that can’t possibly be correct.
Forty years? (wasn’t it just a few years ago?)
Secondly… I did not graduate from my hometown high school. Why would they ask me?
My guess is there might be some confusion.
Some confusion might be from the fact that it has indeed been 40 years… memories are the first to go.
The other is I wrote about a book about my memories of growing up in my hometown. I tell stories of being a student at Oak Harbor high school. Obviously, this friend hasn’t read my book because I document the reasons why I did not graduate with my class.
Either way… I don’t know if they are having a reunion. I am not invited.
But this FACEBOOK post caused me to pause and to start counting on my fingers and toes as to how many years it really had been. I don’t normally keep track of such things.
Has it really been forty years since I received my diploma on that June day? Could I remember a single point of the valedictorian speech that would tell me to chase my dreams with gusto? Had it really been that long since I sat with that mortar board affixed upon my huge head and oversized nose? I weighed all of 130 lbs. at 6’2”. 45 of those pounds were attributed to my large nose. It took another 15 years for my body to catch up to the size of my nose and now it has far exceeded the proper balance of nose size to body size ratio.
I don’t remember a single thing about my graduation ceremony. Oh… I remember the day, but I was too consumed with heartache.
What I remember about my graduation is the fact that my girlfriend broke up with me 3 days before it took place and I was devastated. It was over for my 3-year relationship with the girl of my dreams. My 17-year-old life was over, and it would never be the same.
At least that was what I thought at the time.
As I sat there trying to squeeze out any memory of that graduation ceremony, I immediately went into shock when I realized that I could no longer count the years I’d been out of school on my fingers and toes. I dug my senior yearbook out of the recesses of my attic. I dusted it off and paged through memories I’d long forgotten: Friday night games spent with my friends on the field and on the court. Long bus rides coming home from a victorious game or the sullen woes of dealing with a loss. All made right when I would spend time with my cheerleader girlfriend. Memories of walking the halls and lunchroom dramas. Tests, quizzes, and term papers. Not to mention the memory of conversations with my favorite teacher.
When I came to my senior portrait, I looked at that skinny young man with the light blue three-piece suit. I so wish he knew what I know now.
As I reminisced, I thought of all of the things I’ve learned along the way that I really wish I’d known ahead of time. Of course, I wouldn’t be where I am today without surviving the disco era phase but, still, there are a few things I would like to have known to make the next 40 years of my life a little easier to sojourn.
As I sat there with my graduation gown on and the graduation cap mashed upon my bulb-ish head I would like to have known these things… (in no particular order).
- Travel, while your standards are low. Youth hostels are a lot less glamorous at 57.
- Pack up your tiny, barely running PINTO and drive it until it craps out. See as much of the country you can and eat peanut butter and jelly along the way.
- John Lennon gets murdered, as does Marvin Gaye, so prepare yourself for that. Michael Jackson dies. And so, does Prince. And Tom Petty. So, enjoy them while you can.
- Your hair will turn grey, but it will stay where it is, unlike some of your friends, so enjoy it and quit worrying about it. You’re good.
- Speaking of hair… it will start growing in the oddest places. It will start to grow out of your ears and you need to keep that stuff under control. They will invent products that will make it easier. Hang on, help is coming.
- Enjoy the freedom of being lost on a country road with your best friend as you sing Tom Petty lyrics at the top of your lungs. Technology will make it nearly impossible to be as in the moment as you are right now.
- You will not recognize your eyebrows after you turn 40. Seriously, be prepared.
- The grunge phase doesn’t last long. I promise.
- When your favorite shows end, don’t panic. Turns out, networks “reboot” shows thirty years later and it’s like they’ve never left.
- You will discover in the coming years when life settles scores that you will be friends with everyone from your high school class, even the cool kids. And, 20 years later, you’ll talk with the people that ignored you and you’ll all wonder why you weren’t friends in high school.
- You will never get over the loss of your first love. But that heartache will lead you the one who will love you forever. As in the fact that she has been your wife now for many years. In the end, it all works out for you because twenty years after she breaks up with you before this graduation day… you will be reunited, and the rest is history.
- One day, you will realize you can’t remember the name of the kid who annoyed you in biology class. And you’ll text (yes… you will learn what that is and how to do it) your best friend to ask if he remembers and he’ll have forgotten, too.
- High school is good. College is better. Those that you thought were going to be so successful never are.
- Wear your faith a little closer to the top. Don’t hide your faith. Own it. Let people see that Christ lives in you. I know you hide it now… but you’ll regret that in the coming years.
- You’ll get a VCR but soon no one will use it anymore and this will come as a shock to you. Also, don’t say “tape a show” to your kids because they will laugh at you.
- Cherish the friends you make in high school and do what you can to keep in touch. On the days when life is barely recognizable, they will help you find the guy who wore a light blue leisure suit to the dance. Be prepared, cause your kids they will continue to laugh much when they remind you just how hideous that suit really was.
- Be very grateful social media doesn’t exist. Your wild nights with friends won’t come back to haunt you at a job interview.
- Two words: Ear hair. Yes, I know, this is the second time I referenced this. It’s devastating. I don’t know what to say, either.
- High school football games don’t change. When you attend one in the coming years, you’ll swear you can hear your friends giggling next to you and if you close your eyes, you can see your home team playing on the gridiron. You will come to the realization that at the end of the day… it really didn’t matter whether you played or not. No one made it the NFL.
- Relax… you’ll become a teacher, soon after that, you will become a high school principal and you will be exactly what you always wanted to be.
- You’ll prove the naysayers wrong. Those that told you that you would not amount to anything will be wrong and you’ll achieve dreams far beyond those encouraged by this valedictorian speech.
- Prepare yourself. Read more about the things that excite you, question everything. Learn how to become a better speaker, writer, storyteller, son, friend, leader, boss, and father. Again, be prepared… you’ll discover that you will fail in all of these endeavors, but you can recover it by striving to become better today than yesterday.
- Clear communication is a key to personal and professional success. Practice writing every day. Write about your day. The show you have seen, your feelings, fears and dreams, love and the perfect world. Make it interesting. One day, you’ll be an author.
- Don’t try to be important. It’s not about you. Your ego will demand attention, ignore it. Serve anyone without expecting anything in return. Amazing things will happen once you shift your mindset and start enjoying helping others. You will see how paying it forward comes back in the most beautiful and unexpected ways.
- Life is short. And sweet. And it really does go by too fast. As cliché as it sounds, one day, you’ll wake up and realize that 40 years have passed. And you’ll find yourself writing a list like this.
As I wrote these down, I realize that I could write a book about these lessons I wish I would have known when I was sitting on that chair on graduation day.
Truth is… some things matter. Most things don’t.
I would like to have responded “Yes” to attending my 40th high school reunion this summer, I remembered the teachers, the friends, and the memories. I smile at the antics on Fall afternoons, driving cars and chasing my girlfriend. I reminisced about dances, classes I loved and even those from hell. But there isn’t a 40th reunion in my future.
Sure… there are things I hated about it. It wasn’t perfect and there are things I know now I wish I would never have learned. Sometimes life experience sucks. Those things are appropriate for another book somewhere down the line.
Every now and then I wish I could go back… not to change a single thing but to feel the freedom of being young again and not know what I know now.
I know that my life is the sum of all my experiences. The same as it is for you.
I remember being that 17-year-old young man and wondered what would happen to him.
Mostly, though, I remember myself wearing that light blue leisure suit and hoping that the best was yet to come….
And it was.