Saturday, June 14, 2014

Remembering the days of the old school yard

"You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anyone" ~ Maya Angelou

At my 21st birthday party, I dressed as Romy from "Romy and Michelle's high school reunion". While the movie itself was not exactly cutting edge cinema, it explored a theme that resonates with most of us - mixed feelings about the prospect of facing one's high school peers a factor of ten years after graduation. In the film, Romy and Michelle go to great lengths in an attempt to prove to their former classmates just how successful and happy they now are.

A couple of decades later and I find myself dressing again for a reunion - this time my own. While I wasn't intending to pretend that I had invented post-it notes, it's only natural to worry about being put in a room full of the people one went through adolescence with. They remind us of old insecurities, habits, grievances and labels that we'd rather forget. When thinking of those years, some of the more negative memories have lingered - the emphasis on grades and all that stuff about looks and money that seems to be a focus for people on the north shore, or maybe teenagers generally. It was easy to feel stupid, ugly and poor when surrounded by an above average cohort. So at the reunion I pictured all that stuff re-surfacing and wondered how I would stack up now against a group of highly intelligent and now probably extremely successful women.

Part of our group on Yr 11 "lawn"

But then I decided that reunions don't have to be traumatic events where we re-live old insecurities. They also offer a marker of time against which to reflect on the direction our life has taken thus far. Are we where we thought we'd be? Are we happy with the person we have become? What is our own measure of success? With these questions in mind, I laid out the outfit options on the bed. As I selected an ensemble that seemed to fit the occasion, a small voice inside told me "Just be yourself and it will be fine". And it was.

As we entered the room, our year advisor, who had always been great with names, greeted me. "Aletia, you haven't changed a bit", she declared, which was a very promising start to the evening. As I sought out the people I most wanted to connect with, there were hugs and smiles, and a real sense of comraderie. Everyone, most likely, was just as apprehensive as I was, and we all began by laughing awkwardly about forgetting one another's names. It was incredible to think that we were at high school before facebook, mobile phones and email and yet all these advances had been integral to organising the evening. Basically in our day we wrote assignments by hand, and communicated via note passing by day and the telephone by night. We also seemed to have a preference for large pink lunch boxes, according to one photo that I found.

20 years on and we haven't aged a bit!!!

Apart from being really excited to catch up with members of my friendship group again after so long, it was also lovely to see old classmates and reminisce about particularly odd teachers, memorable conversations on the bus ride from St Leonards station, going to Christian camp just to meet guys and those 1980s French songs whose lyrics are still imprinted into our brains. Discovering that I have a blog fan amongst my former peers (hi Ada) was another highlight. It occurred to me that it was really the competitive system and some teachers that had dampened my memory of high school, not my fellow students. Nobody was there to judge and we were all delighted to see each other...just as we are.

I have to confess that I was intrigued by the news that Madame Pickering, who eventually succeeded in getting two of us out of her class so that her precious average didn't suffer, now serves chips on a beach somewhere up north. I picture her giving those surfies a few lessons in pronunciation! I began to wonder what became of the Latin teacher who enjoyed the pleasure of my company during many a lunchtime detention while I repeatedly re-conjugated the verb to do/make with correct spelling or came to grips with the past imperfect tense as pertaining to the life and times of Caecilius and his family.

My only regret was probably not getting around to talk to some of the girls from Drama. This was one class that crossed all the friendship boundaries and where we had to put those petty differences aside and build a sense of community for a higher cause - love of the theatre (oh, and the other motivator - fear of humiliation on stage in front of family, friends and the rest of the school). I fondly remember playing Nora in "A woman of no importance" and Envy in Dr Faustus' Seven Deadly Sins, and being regularly reminded of the benefits of
Alexander technique by one of the Ms Fitzgeralds. Drama class was what made the rest of high school bearable for me, as well as, oddly enough, Maths. For some reason I loved Algebra...

As our hostess (the girl who two decades ago was deemed most likely to organise the reunion) reminded us, we hadn't really changed all that much. Those from the debating team were now lawyers or appearing on Insight discussing our country's budget. Those who wanted to be Prime Minister were now active in politics. One girl from the nerd group (her term, not mine) was telling me that too many of her friends are predictably in actuarial work, and the party animals were getting rowdy when the night was still young.  The talkative people possibly hadn't drawn breath in twenty years and the comedians still have us rolling on the floor laughing (yep, we spelt it out in full in our day). And of course none of us have aged a bit. :)

Themed cup cakes from Vanilla Whisk

So, another decade over, and what have we done? Our motto means "toward higher things" and I think that's what we've done, in our own individual ways. People have pursued careers, started families, moved state, moved country, gotten in and out of relationships, but mostly just continued on with the business of being ourselves, which is all we can ever do. I reckon I'll go to the next reunion as well, because I want to have the opportunity in another ten years time to mark where I am at, and reflect on how my high school days shaped me into who I became. In the meantime - Ad Altiora!

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