Last week I had the privilege of attending my 40th year high school reunion. (Yes, do the math and now you know how old I am.) An event like this makes you look back on a lot of memories, some you cherish and some you wish you could forget. As the day grew closer my Facebook feed was overrun with comments from classmates on all sorts of vital issues – what to wear, who would be there, and that always aggravating last minute zit that was appearing just in time. Well, somethings really haven’t changed in forty years.
We began as 547 graduates in 1975. There were some twenty-five of us who have passed away over the years, each one mourned and missed. Of the remaining 500+ about 200 gathered that night. We came from an all-girl public high school, a unique situation created when our parish government all those years ago decided to segregate the sexes after being required to desegregate the races. So many people think this odd and undesirable, but it was normal to us and afforded us opportunities to lead that we might not have otherwise had.
As I look back on our lives together I am reminded that we came of age at a exceptional time in history. When we were in the first grade we heard announced in our classrooms that our President Kennedy had been assassinated. In junior high we watched grainy black and white television sets to see the first man walk on the moon. In high school we saw the Supreme Court rule on Roe v. Wade which changed the decisions women were allowed to legally make regarding child bearing. And always in the background of our lives was the Vietnam War. I remember well, the day in my sophomore year, when our leaders announced that our troops would be brought home. The relief we felt, expressed in both cheers and tears, was very real as my brother was just months away from his eighteenth birthday.
As we stepped out into the world in 1975, the women’s liberation movement was in full swing. I expect more graduates from our class than any previous one, went on to college and advanced education. But I think, more important than going on to college and careers, was the fact that we had choices available to us. No longer were we encouraged only in the direction of marriage and motherhood. We were actually told that we could become doctors and lawyers, nurses and accountants, artists and inventors, business owners and elected officials. And we did!
Who knew that typing skills, not considered a college prep course in 1975, are today the indispensable keyboarding skills? Who could have imagined iPads and wireless internet in a world of televisions with knobs to change the channel? Could a cell phone be possible when our house phones were connected to the wall and used rotary dials? The changes in technology and communication have been unprecedented in our lifetimes. And socially we have seen such great changes in the rights of women, minorities and the disabled – I know we have a long way to go, but these things weren’t even discussed forty years ago. (If some of my former employers made the comments today that they made to me years ago, I’m sure it would be a case for a discrimination or sexual harassment suit.)
To gather together again meant contacting people throughout the United States and in foreign countries. Some of us still live close by while others came from as far away as California. Some of us look the same and some of us look remarkably different. We laughed and hugged and tried to remember names and places. I learned that there are some folks I’ve met in the last forty years that I didn’t know I graduated with until we saw each other on reunion night.
By now this group of girls (or do I call us women or ladies?), has seen enough of life to know both the joy of love and the sorrow of loss. To look around the room, clearly life has been more difficult for some than for others. But we gathered for pictures and recounted silly stories as we promised to get together again soon. And I must say, though I’ve spent much time remembering what it was like forty years ago, I am less impressed with The Way We Were than I am with The Way We Are.
And at the end of the night, we joined arm in arm to sing the same song we sang forty years ago:
Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time rewritten every line? If we had the chance to do it all again tell me, would we? Could we? Memories may be beautiful and yet What’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget. So it’s the laughter we will remember Whenever we remember, the way we were.