As I glanced around the room, I felt that time had finally stood still. All of us had obviously changed, grown, aged, but none of that change seemed to matter. It was clear that many years had rolled by us, but somehow we were collectively channeling back to what had been such a glorious time in our lives. We were chatting, laughing, gabbing, and smiling with each other as if we hadn’t missed a moment, as if we hadn’t aged.
There was plenty of food, lots of drink, and a band that beat all bands. The weather was stunning, the setting was appropriate, and the cost was a drop-in-the-bucket of what it should or could have been. Our conversations were incredible – bringing forth the best in all of us. It was an evening for the ages as the 1974 graduating class of St. Thomas Aquinas High School had reconvened in full force to celebrate its fortieth anniversary – in style.
We danced, we drank, and we ate. More importantly, we talked. Denise become a grandmother three times over earlier in the day. Jerry traveled to Italy with his entire family. D’Anne found a bottle of wine with our high school name on it. Bought it and brought it, of course. Viv sang with the band. Larry had rehabbed a house. We all sat and listened to the stories of our lives, and learned a great deal about the actions and activities that had happened over four decades.
I initially thought that what kept us together was that we graduated from the same place many moons ago. We all attended a Catholic co-educational high school, with rules out the ying-yang, faculty whose behavior today may have been cause for alarm, classes that challenged us to the bone, and tuition that forced our parents to sacrifice. It was a tough school, whose primary goal wasn’t to produce students who scored well on standardized tests. Nor was its main purpose to ensure steady and successful transitions to college and or employment. As a youngster, I didn’t really know why it existed.
I do now.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to care. I listened to story after story from my classmates about my classmates finding themselves in situations that required caring and self-less attitudes and actions. Folks volunteering to help newborns and their mothers. Men and women reaching out and helping relatives in any way possible, moving moms, dads, aunts, and uncles into their homes if necessary. Classmates participating in fundraising activities and, in general, looking out for those who can not do so for themselves.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to think. We studied algebra, chemistry, world religions. But, we learned to problem solve, critically think, innovate. It wasn’t about ensuring that we would forever and a day be able to remember and use the Pythagorean Theorem. It was ensuring that we could and would create a successful life for ourselves and our families. At the reunion, there were folks who had recently retired, who had started new jobs, opened their own companies, raised successful families, and in general, used their wits to live glorious lives. Everyone had different narratives, but all of them seem to indicate lives worth living and lives lived to the fullest.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught us to be accepting. And on this one, I was most surprised for the 1970s weren’t necessarily a time where people embraced differences. In fact, differences were often shunned. But somehow, the Class of ’74 seemed to have pushed beyond the past. The 80+ people gathered for the reunion were quite different from each other. No two characters were alike. But, we – forty years later – were capitalizing on those who were unique – which was everyone – and details on that which made us different, not on that which made us the same.
Learning to care, learning to think, learning to accept are topics for the ages.
To me, these topics are just as relevant today as they were in 1974. High school students have an inherent tendency to focus more on self than others. Placing them in settings where they are forced to put others first does build that first needed foundation for caring.
And teaching students to think is a learning gift – a gem. My high school used quirky and unconventional methods in this area, but they worked. Classroom days built on the pursuit of learning about learning will build a society of great thinkers. Class of 1974 – case in point.
Finally, the trilogy is complete when students are taught to accept. There are so many paths that lead high school students towards the low road of non-acceptance. It can be a time of either fearing those who are different or fearing being different. I hope – and pray – that those who are leading learning in today’s American high schools, much like those who did so at my high school, figure out ways to encourage students to becoming people who thrive on the differences in others.
At the end of the evening, I had hoped that I would have a memorable take-away. I thought it would have been something more comical, something that may have happened throughout the event that raised eye-brows and caused chuckles. Perhaps something that involved some kind of excess and the police. Something to take me back to my high school days – and the moments when we broken the rules just enough to surprise, but not enough to cause concern.
Not the case. My thanks to all my caring, thoughtful, and accepting classmates from STA 74.