Re­union sparks re­flec­tions on high school life lessons

Chicago Sun-Times - - ANOTHER VIEW | POLITICS - MARY MITCHELL Fol­low Mary Mitchell on Twit­ter: @MaryMitchel­lCST Email: marym@ suntimes. com

High school re­unions are about more than catch­ing up with peo­ple you haven’t seen in decades.

Re­unions give us the space to re­flect on just how far we’ve come.

I re­cently at­tended the 50th re­union of Dun­bar Vo­ca­tional High School’s Class of 1967, and it was a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence.

Like most peo­ple, I ap­proached this mile­stone with ap­pre­hen­sion.

Given that I went through four years of high school barely able to see be­cause I didn’t want to wear my thick glasses, I knew I wouldn’t rec­og­nize faces that had aged 50 years.

And re­ally, what do you say to peo­ple you haven’t seen since you walked down the aisle in a cap and gown?

But there was plenty to talk about.

Some of my class­mates had used their vo­ca­tional train­ing as a means to sup­port fam­i­lies. Oth­ers had built their own busi­nesses. More than a few were ed­u­ca­tors and nurses. One was a lawyer, an­other a min­is­ter.

It only takes one or two re­unions to fig­ure out that many of the peo­ple you thought were so cool in high school re­ally weren’t cool af­ter all.

We were a class of about 350, but only 70 peo­ple showed up, and that in­cluded spouses and sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers.

Tom­mie L. Wil­liams, a well­known fig­ure in the South Side’s step­per com­mu­nity, has been in­volved in putting to­gether the class re­union since 1987.

“What is re­fresh­ing to me was the good time ev­ery­one had. I got a lot of feed­back and a lot of texts. Peo­ple re­ally en­joyed them­selves, and they were glad they came,” he said.

This re­union made me es­pe­cially nos­tal­gic.

Af­ter all, high school left a last­ing im­pres­sion on many of us be­cause it was the place where we tried to fig­ure out where we fit in.

Some of the de­ci­sions we made in high school af­fected our en­tire lives.

The lessons we learned in high school are worth pass­ing on to young peo­ple to­day.

For in­stance, be­ing pop­u­lar has its pit­falls.

Many of the girls who got into re­la­tion­ships early ended up preg­nant and never com­pleted high school.

If I had it to do over, I would have had a wider so­cial net­work. I cer­tainly wouldn’t have sat at the same lunch­room ta­ble with the same group of girls for four years.

JoAnn Jack­son, who now lives in Mil­wau­kee, is one of those peo­ple who floated from clique to clique.

Her ad­vice to high school fresh­men is based on the golden rule.

“I taught my chil­dren grow­ing up to treat peo­ple the way they wanted to be treated and to put them­selves in their shoes,” Jack­son said.

“I would tell fresh­men not to think that they are bet­ter than any­one else. The poor­est per­son or the [ most ragged] per­son could very well turn out to be your friend and end up help­ing you one day. You shouldn’t judge peo­ple,” she said.

Jack­son also ad­mit­ted she would “study a lit­tle harder.”

“I had a re­ally strict fa­ther, and the only chance to have fun was in school. I liked to help peo­ple, but I was help­ing them to do some­thing naughty,” Jack­son said with a chuckle.

Wil­liams, a suc­cess­ful ac­coun­tant, also said he would have been more fo­cused on his stud­ies.

“I started slack­ing off the closer I got to grad­u­a­tion. I got one ‘ D’ my whole time in high school, and I got it in my se­nior year,” he said.

“I would say fresh­men need to pay at­ten­tion to what coun­selors and teach­ers are telling them. High school is ac­tu­ally lay­ing the foun­da­tion. Fresh­man year is a tran­si­tion for them from be­ing a kid to be­ing a per­son,” Wil­liams pointed out.

The main rea­son most peo­ple go to their 50- year re­union is to see how they stack up against their peers.

Most of my for­mer class­mates have re­tired from re­ward­ing ca­reers that they credit to the vo­ca­tional train­ing they re­ceived at Dun­bar. That’s not sur­pris­ing. What was sur­pris­ing, how­ever, was how ab­so­lutely fabulous ev­ery­one looked.

Only a cou­ple of peo­ple vis­i­bly strug­gled with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, although sev­eral peo­ple said they had un­der­gone knee re­place­ment surg­eries.

But most of my high school class­mates looked like they had dis­cov­ered the fountain of youth.

Sev­eral women ac­tu­ally danced the “Wa­tusi,” “Twist” and “Twine” wear­ing spike heels.

“Clean liv­ing” is the se­cret, said Carol Walker, a sil­ver­haired woman who looked like she was in her early 50s.

That’s sound ad­vice — then and now.

PRO­VIDED PHOTO

JoAnn Jack­son ( left), Ruby Boddy, An­drea Liv­ingston Brown and Donna Met­lock Done­gan flank Mary Mitchell at the 50th re­union of Dun­bar Vo­ca­tional High School’s Class of 1967.

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