I’ve spent a lot of time around high schools this weekend, covering two football games Friday and Saturday for The Charlotte Observer and taking a tour of the new high school building today in my hometown of Clinton, S.C., while on a visit there to see my brother.
My graduating class at Clinton High School is planning its 40-year reunion, to be held late next month. It seems hard to believe that it’s been that long since I was a high school student, and it was an interesting experience to sit with a group of my classmates this afternoon at the new school.
It was a planning meeting for the reunion and we started by going down a list of our class members and their addresses to see how many we could still locate. A copy of the 1970 Clintonian yearbook was a handy reference. (This is our first reunion in the Facebook era, so we’re also using that as a tool to find and contact folks.)
I haven’t lived in Clinton in more than 25 years, so I found that I’ve lost track of more than a few of my classmates. But the more I listened to the updates on them, the more it occurred to me that 40 years takes you lots of places, whether you left town or not.
We’ve gotten married — some of us more than once — and had children and, now at our age, grandchildren. We’re closing in on retirement or already there. At our age, some folks have had health challenges. And sadly, an increasing number of us are gone — some that I hadn’t heard about. And like every other high school graduating class in today’s mobile America, we’ve lived all over the place. And there are some we’re not sure we can find.
The building where we went to high school is empty right now, replaced this year by a marvelous new facility about a half-mile down the road. It’s been several years in the making and this afternoon, the school held a formal dedication. I missed most of it, but did manage to walk through quickly before our reunion meeting started. It was especially meaningful to me, since in addition to being a former student, I’m also a former employee of our local school district.
For more than five years in the late Seventies and early Eighties, I was a public relations person for the school system. It was gratifying to see the public support for the school in the form of a large turnout for the dedication. Schools, as I tell my journalism students when we talk about covering education, are especially a touchstone for small towns, and school boards are probably the most accessible units of government anywhere.
It’s not hard for the community to identify with your school when (and I got this information from the dedication program) the district’s interim superintendent, two assistant principals at the high school, its guidance director and 33 faculty members all graduated from it.
Admittedly, I don’t set foot on high school campuses here in Charlotte except when covering sports events, but I think it’s harder to find that same feeling of identification with a local community, especially with new high schools opening every few years forming new bonds and new traditions.
I’m looking forward to returning to the new school for a more leisurely look when our class gets together in about six weeks. And to paraphrase that young whippersnapper Prince, it will be fun to party with my classmates like it’s 1969.