20 years. 20 years? 20 years ago at this time, I was counting down the days that I would be done with high school. It was a bittersweet time, because I really liked being in high school and had a great set of friends I would miss, but I was also looking forward to being in the "grown-up" world of college, to go away, live in a dorm, and start on the academic path to my career.
This past weekend I traveled to Chicago to attend my 20th high school reunion. My friend Linda mentioned that if you asked that 18 year-old 20 years ago what she thought of being 38, she would probably say, "That's old". But she went on to say, "You know, I really like being this age. I think I like it better than I liked being 18".
I have to agree. While there is still so much to learn in my life, I am comfortable in my own skin now. I know more and more about who I am, what I like, what makes me feel comfortable, and who my true friends really are.
Being back in my high school in my 37-year-old (I'm younger than my peers) skin felt good. Not only did I reconnect with other women who shared the four years with me, but I was able to see the building and sort through the memories through my older, and somewhat wiser eyes.
During that rainy afternoon and evening, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the chance to attend such an incredible school. Gratitude for the teachers who dedicated their time to ensure we were all successful and ready for the next place in our lives. Gratitude for the lifelong friends I made there, who accept me for who I am, and whose care and concern is evident on their faces as they listen intently to the stories I tell. Gratitude for the laughter that bubbled over immediately, as we walked down the familiar hallways and saw a locker, or a class picture, or a stairway that reminded us of a funny story.
I went to an all-girls Catholic high school on the north side of Chicago. It wasn't that unusual back then, I would say that a large majority of the people from my grammar school went on to all-boys' or all-girls' high school. My sisters paved the road for me to attend the high school where I went. There really was no question when it came time to make my decision. I would go to the school where they each spent four years, taking the CTA bus there every morning, walking to school from the bus stop with the other girls wearing the same uniform, sitting in classes taught by some of the same teachers that they had.
And now 20 years later? Well, my school has become quite unique. It is one of the few single-sex high schools remaining. Some of the other schools that were all-girls or all-boys have gone co-ed. Some have closed their doors and now house charter schools. Some have closed their doors and now house businesses.
There are two sides to every coin, I know, and I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of single-sex high school education. This post is about my reunion, and I'll continue with that. But I have to say that I am mostly "pro-SSA" (my high school) after hearing the fantastic statistics that were given to us during a speech by the principal. Those statistics made me proud of the place that I spent four years. Proud of the challenging education I received there. Proud to be part of a place that is still revered in the city. Proud to be part of a group of people who still care about me.
I won't bore you with all of the statistics. But how could I not be proud of a statistic like, "1.5 million dollars in college scholarships already secured by the senior class"? I didn't hear what the current enrollment is, but I'm guessing that the senior class is somewhere around 60-70 girls. (This is down from 150 who I graduated with).
While I was in the building, in-between catching up with my friends, I tried to take everything in. I saw details that I missed in the rush of those four years. While I rushed from class to class or volleyball practice, or student council meetings back then, I missed the mosaic pictures on the walls, the beautifully-maintained woodwork around the tall windows and doorways in the classrooms. Sure, I was being reminiscent on Saturday, but these things just added to the pride I have for the place in general.
And the camaraderie. The feeling in the air this past Saturday was so comfortable, so inviting. It didn't matter if you never had a class with someone. The bond of going to our high school together at the same time was enough. We gathered in the study hall, which was cleared of desks, sat at tables, and ate and drank together. We looked through our old yearbooks together, commenting on the whereabouts of various people. Most of the people there have been reconnected already through Facebook, so the initial "what are you doing now?" talk was eliminated. It just felt like a reunion of friends, catching up on the latest in their lives. And did I mention the laughter? Only this comfortable air could allow such laughter. Oh, did it flow. Until my sides hurt.
We're already planning a get-together sooner than five years (when the next reunion will be). I hope it happens. It was so good to be with this wonderful group of women, all from different places and backgrounds, but with a unique bond that brought us together in an instant.