Fifty Years Ago: High School Graduation

Marcus Whitman Hotel, a Walla Walla landmark.

Marcus Whitman Hotel, a Walla Walla landmark.

Fifty years ago: two men walked on the moon’s surface. The musical phenomenon of Woodstock rocked the nation. The war in Vietnam continued. I graduated from high school along with 500 classmates. Some of us eagerly anticipated college, some wondered whether they’d be called up for the draft, still others married and started families. We went our separate ways, coming back together occasionally, keeping in contact through our parents or mutual friends, spreading our wings, leaving our small-town situated among the wheat fields of southeastern Washington, or staying in Walla Walla or one of the small, surrounding communities and making a life not dissimilar to that of our parents.

My high school 50th reunion is in a few weeks. I’d planned on attending but my grandchildren, four-year-old Solomon and almost one-year-old Lydia, will be visiting us from Pennsylvania. I will be here in Boulder, taking Solomon to nature camp, swim lessons, and a Preschool Paleontology session at the History Museum, helping Lydia navigate three flights of stairs as she finds her independence, and going on hikes with my son. Time with them is precious, each day a treat and a surprise.

Yet, while I will not be at the reunion in person, thoughts are running rampant about those high school years, reminiscences colliding with the present reality of our lives. To be clear, I was one of the “brainy” students, not bragging, but a fact, at least categorized that way at that time. We took Advanced Placement Calculus, honors Physics with Johnnie Dennis (eventually national teacher of the year), Chemistry (I had the “other” Chemistry teacher as my mother taught at the high school and I couldn’t bear—at the time, anyway—to have her as mother and teacher), advanced SEPS (an economics/sociology class), multiple years of French or Spanish, and on and on. I envied the more popular kids, the ones who became Prom Kings and Queens, who were class officers and star athletes, who seemed comfortable in their teenage skin. There were so many categories, artificial, praised, denigrated, kids with whom we were best friends in kindergarten but who we outgrew or they outgrew us, the fluid mix changing from grade school to junior high to high school.

Wheat fields with Blue Mountains in the distance.

Wheat fields with Blue Mountains in the distance.

The reunion, though, promised a peek into our lives today, many if not most retired, some widowed, others divorced, still others celebrating marriages of fifty years, learning of their experiences, and sharing our stories. I think of classmates no longer with us, especially Bess Harter, one of my dearest friends who brought me into a fold that I might not otherwise have navigated on my own. I think of friends who were strong and independent girls even in the late 1960s, like Cathy Heacock and Mary Metastasio, both wicked-bright and funny. There were high school classmates that were together since kindergarten, like Laurie Drumheller, Kathy Pasco Read or Joan Monteillet (who moved to Portland after ninth grade but who is still a strong force in my southeastern Washington connections). So many others with whom I shared different levels of connection in high school whether ski club, United Nations club, synchronized swimming, band, early morning classes, science trips, summer working in the produce houses or college library.

There are classmates I occasionally saw throughout the intervening years as my life took me from southeastern Washington to northern California, New York City, southern California, back to northern California, then to Austin, Texas, and now in Colorado. Whether through work or mutual friends or happenstance, those gatherings remain fresh and heart-warming to me. There are those who were mere acquaintances or an unknown picture in our annual yearbook, but with whom I am now acquainted through social media. It’d be wonderful to meet them face to face. And of course, there are friends I haven’t seen since the summer of 1969; I especially hoped to give them big hugs in a few weeks.

Pioneer Park with grandstand.

Pioneer Park with grandstand.

Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine what I was like as a teenager, the angst, the anxieties, the promise; fifty years later I still wonder what my life will be as the years continue. We were so young those many years ago; we made mistakes; we were too sensitive; we hurt one another; we rallied around our community; we shared a sense of place; we laughed and cried. I will miss not being able to share the lessons of my classmates. Hopefully another year.

The Carl Street house where I lived from age three until leaving for college. Mom and Dad continued to live there until 2006.

The Carl Street house where I lived from age three until leaving for college. Mom and Dad continued to live there until 2006.