Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Class of 1964:The Class Of Great Promise Holds A Reunion

The Greatest Generation birthed them. They came of age at the pinnacle of their nation’s industrial power, prosperity, and position as the undisputed leader of the free world and the beacon of hope for those not so free. Spurred on by a thirst for knowledge and achievement, their scholastic test scores were exceptional. And they found themselves at a turning point for human rights and other new frontiers. They were the high school Class of 1964, the Class of Great Promise. When they gathered for their tenth reunion in 1974, they did so in an environment of unprecedented national change. Everywhere this summer the Class of 1964, now in their late 60’s, gathered for their 50th reunion. I was among them, making the journey from Georgia to Salisbury, Maryland, to join classmates from Wicomico Senior High School, fondly known as Wi-Hi.

On a Saturday evening earlier this month, my wife and I sat with 125 or so of my classmates enjoying cocktails, a fine Eastern Shore dinner, and an opportunity to reminisce. In fifty years, we lost roughly sixty out of 350 graduates. Out of the 290 remaining, about 200 – a surprisingly high number to me – still lived within fifty miles of their high school. This was the first reunion I attended and I had not been in Salisbury for over 30 years. After such an absence there were questions. Would I be recognized and welcomed? What about conversations? The memories? Although I had only been with most of my classmates through seven years and seven grades, good memories flowed easily. The few sadder times remembered had been softened over the years, but some youthful misperceptions, small wounds, "if onlies," and especially regrets about forgotten friends persisted.

In recalling the events of that dinner and of a gathering the previous evening, the Class of Great Promise did not disappoint. I loved every minute of the experience. All the fears were put to rest quickly in spite of the graying hair, the weight gain, no glasses, new teeth, a beard, a new first name and a three decade void. In so many ways I could never be removed from this association. Although we had established separate lives and moved distances sometimes measured in thousands of miles, there was a sense of common experience stretching over the decades. I read so many stories of that experience in their faces. Flower children, rebels both reformed and unreformed, Vietnam veterans, 
homemakers, business successes, professionals, contented retirees and more were there. And many faces bore signs of hard work, pain, disappointment and uncertainty, but I saw nothing that spoke of a lack of determination.  Was that "Great Promise" at work or the selectivity of a reunion at the autumn of a generation? I'll leave that question to readers everywhere who know all of these stories. Only the faces will change.

If you plan to be a face at a future reunion, be it five or fifty years, have no fear. Even the longest lost souls and introverted optimists will find welcome in the smiles, handshakes and hugs. The close friends perhaps abandoned, those you wanted to know better, those you secretly desired, the clusters of friends who helped each other through” those” years - they’ll be there. On the other hand, some will be missing from the events by choice or circumstance and it will be a disappointment. But be prepared for an even greater loss - those friends in the room you simply didn't reach. Sometimes, a photo and name tag prove useless and you pass each other in the aisles or perhaps stand in line together at a bar or serving line. Some will point to your empty chair and ask your spouse where you are in a crowd of 300 people, most of them searching for other people. All of these scenarios lead to a motto we know well: Be prepared. If you are a long-absent face at your class reunion, pull out that dusty yearbook and make a “must see” list. Better yet, make early contact with those you don’t want to miss. These contacts may lead to plans for a "shoulder day" or two on either side of the reunion for gatherings with close high schools friends.

Even if you are poorly prepared for a big reunion, say #50, there’s a good chance you won’t be waiting for five years to see your classmates again. The advancing years of our Class of 1964 convinced organizers to plan a 70th birthday party. I'd say that is great promise! And if it is God’s will, we will attend...with a checklist.

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