This year marks my 40th anniversary for graduating from high school. I could say the same for marking 40 years ago that I joined the Navy. On the other hand, I received my bachelor of arts in communication 30 years ago this year. That’s a lot of anniversaries for one year.
In a year that saw physical difficulty with a ba for a major portion of 2014, it sadly also saw two of my four brothers pass away within two months of each other. That is the way it goes sometimes, triumph and tragedy, or vice versa. The last time I saw my Dad was at my college graduation. I suppose that if there is a time when it is right for someone to last see one another, perhaps that time should be on the upswing.
But I sit here not to sound a melancholy note. Nor do I write here to praise one milestone as opposed to another.
The fact is I have been a bit more involved in the planning for my high school reunion than for that of my college reunion. The reasons include simple arithmetic. There were between 80-to-100 students in my high school graduating class. I wouldn’t venture a guess for the numbers who graduated with my college class. I do know that that during the spring semester of 1984, when I graduated from college, saw a record enrollment that has since been broken once or twice. About 11,800 enrolled during that semester at Stephen F. Austin State University. The college is tucked away among the “pine curtain” of East Texas. “Home of virgin pines and tall women,” we would joke.
I have a fairly simple role in my high school reunion next month. It is our entry in the parade. Yes, parade. Survivors of my class get to ride on a trailer of some sort pulled by some mean machine. My friends involved in the locomotion aspects are in the forest products industry and so the ride itself doesn’t seem like a difficult part to pull off. The hard part is to find out where we should meet our chariot and how should it be decorated. Oh well, it’s a small town. We will likely figure that all out by the time the parade actually takes place.
As for my college reunion, I have no immediate plans. The reasons for that is that my college friends seldom were in the same graduating classes. Most of these friends were younger than I was. I doubt many of my friends will attend festivities at SFA. There are varying reasons for that as well including wives, kids, and/or living in far away places like Tokyo.
My college days were not what you called traditional, to be honest. The fact that I was in the Navy for four years before going to college is a big factor. It wasn’t so much I was “an older guy.” I also got a job before starting school as a firefighter. All but two of my final semesters were spent working. I also didn’t worry much, if any, about finances. That was fairly odd for most of my college friends. Tuition was cheap back then. I received a stipend of around $200 a month from the GI Bill for those semesters I was enrolled. I didn’t do much in the way of summer semesters. It would have been too difficult to manage working and going to school every day, which basically entailed one’s day in summer school all five days of the week. I wasn’t a typical firefighter either, for that matter. Most guys got off work and would go to a second or perhaps even a third job. I worked one summer off-duty, before school had even started. It involved moving mobile homes and getting dirty, not exactly in that order. When I decided to take a week’s vacation, I recruited my best friend, Waldo. I finally left this part-time mess. Waldo, who wasn’t exactly working in his master’s in speech field, stayed on for a little while.
Even the days moving mobile homes was something to look back upon with, while not exactly fondness, amused memories.
All in all, I could not have asked for a better college experience. Oh, my final semester was sheer hedonism. I wasn’t working and we, as was the saying back then, partied like the proverbial big dog! There are lots of differences between looking backward at high school and taking the same long look at college. Especially when you come from a small town, school is literally growing up. It’s tribal. Although I haven’t seen some of my high school friends since we graduated 40 years ago, we are bonded by years, age and place.
But for college, it will always be about walking out into the field on a hazy, warm December morning and hearing Canned Tuna playing on the gigantic Klipsch stereo speakers a friend brought over for the weekend-long party. Or that girl who, no matter what happened between us, will always be your friend. And of course, throw in a couple of fires some that were to be celebrated and others to be extinguished …