I had a little bit of a shock today from an old friend. He noted on his FaceBook page that it had been 25 years to the day, June 2, 1990, that our senior class had graduated high school.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know that…I did. But it finally dawned on me what 25 years really meant. It meant a college degree, a graduate degree, a series of very rewarding jobs, a wedding, a husband, and two wonderful little girls. It also meant diabetes, depression, the crash and burn of a promising career, the failure of a new career attempt, the loss of once-true friends, and a heart attack.
In June of 1990, I was a young woman with all of that ahead of me, and of course a lot more hair. The night before my graduation ceremony, three days before my 18th birthday, I had broken up with my first love. I whimpered through most of the graduation and baccalaureate Mass. In true teenage fashion, we were back together the next day, and held on for three more years, as our very different lives sent us down separate roads little by little.
A few years back, we found one another. He told me he was using the lessons he had learned from my parents to guide his own children. I cried – He had come from a broken home, and my parents never really approved of our relationship. To think he had learned from them anyway was extraordinary. My first love took his own life a few years ago now. There’s a different, bittersweet feeling to the world when I look back at graduation today. The same world that propelled me had failed him.
Two good friends of mine spoke as co-salutatorians on my graduation day. I’d spent everyday and almost every class with them for four years. I lost track of them almost immediately. I still really don’t know why. I saw one, now a successful and admired doctor, one day when I was at a local hospital for a pre-natal check-up. We had been thick as thieves, yet I couldn’t bring myself to even say hello. For some reason, I was afraid she wouldn’t remember me.
In the same hospital, I ran into another classmate while visiting my grandmother. I had known her since elementary school. And, as few know, in our junior high years, lived in fear of her bullying me. I was happy not having seen her more than twice since high school. Even in my late 30s, the encounter sent me back to a time when I was timid, embarrassed and sad. A time when good grades allowed our principle to overlook me skipping school to keep away from her. Today, I’m using that experience to help my own daughter who gets bullied.
Just a few weeks ago, my oldest daughter went to a sleepover at a friend’s. The friend’s father graduated a year after I did from the same school. I had a friend then who had a colossal crush on him. I lost track of her a few years back, but I hear she’s somewhere back around town. If you had told me in 1990 that his daughter and mine would be in the same class in Catholic school, I’d have laughed. God brings people back into our lives sometimes. Only He knows why.
It’s amazing to me how 25 years later, the lessons of those years of Catholic high school are still with me. How the people I knew then can illicit the same feelings from me now. How the teachers I knew then can still make me feel like a kid. How my older brother’s friends who looked after me as a freshman still make me feel safe and loved today. How memories of class trips and adventures keep me connected to some I’d never have known otherwise. How I can’t hear the Eagles sing “Take it Easy” without thinking of a dear high school friend who sang and played it better to my ears.
So much that I learned in those years made me who I am. Not only personally, but in relation to God. My experiences in Catholic high school, while maybe not so different from those of other teenagers in many ways, came with an underlying morality, and a safety net of teachers, parents, administrators and friends to hold me up. In my later life, I find many of the lessons I learned from them have kept me alive to fight another day. Literally.
I couldn’t have imagined sitting in that wood pew in St. Paul’s how much hardship life would bring in my future. Nor could I have imagined the blessings. As I look at this year’s graduates, I can’t help but wonder what the Lord has in store for them. I hope they have learned as much as I found later that I had.