Friday, June 04, 2010

Flashback Friday: CHS Class of 90 Graduation

Almost twenty years ago (on 6 June), I graduated from high school. Big whoop, right? Most everyone does. Why is this worth a special reflection? Well...this is my blog and I'm making it blogworthy. It's kind of funny reflecting on that event because it was a huge deal at the time, but on the scale of things that I've experienced in life since then, its rather unremarkable. Because I felt like I did the graduation thing, I wasn't terribly disappointed to not participate in my college graduation ceremony. It was the result of finishing my degree years after I had left college and my family wouldn't have been there to celebrate with me. My college friends had long graduated and moved elsewhere. So, for now, my high school graduation is probably the only time I'll have ever experience pomp and circumstance in a funny uniform. I still have my cap and gown. My dad didn't understand why we were allowed to keep it. I liked that we were allowed to keep the cap, which I sometimes use as a "thinking cap". Mostly, though, I collect hats. I love having a diverse hat collection.

The picture above was my official graduation photo, taken the summer before I started my Senior year (1989). Yes, I had curly hair back then...because I had naturally curly hair as a toddler and then my hair straightened out. So, during the summer vacation between my Junior and Senior years, I thought it would be kind of cool to have curly hair. My mom gave me a perm. It was a cool idea at the time...until I saw my proofs for the Senior picture (the one taken in the tuxedo). I had a FRO!!! I was not amused. I did not realize that my hair was out of control that way. I think I went a month into the school year before I finally decided to get a haircut, with the short hair style that I prefer. When I walked into school on a Monday morning with my new short and straight hair, several girls said I looked sexier with shorter hair. When someone asked why I cut my hair, I replied, "It kinda got out of control." Several people laughed at that comment. Its true, though. I hate unruly hair. I don't know how women do it. Maybe that's why I find women with short hair to be super sexy.

During my Senior year, a friend of mine dropped out of school one semester before graduation. I couldn't understand it. Dropping out of school was never an option. My dad would not allow it, even if I had an inkling to. It never made sense to me to drop out of school. Besides, my Senior year was the best year in high school. I loved it. Every moment. Fortunately, I was committed to keeping a regular journal since the summer of 1989, so practically every single day of my Senior year is written in one of several volumes of journals. Its a trip to read back over. I kind of wish that I could have kept a regular journal since at least the 7th grade (my second favourite year of school). That would be even more amazing to read back over.

In fact, the photo above is of me in the room I occupied at my parents house in Stone Mountain. The mobile you see in the upper right hand corner is a Prairie Dog mobile that I had made for Art class in the 7th grade. I had it laminated and I still have it with me (in Portland). Prairie Dogs were my favourite animal at the time. They are still fascinating creatures. I drew them all the time in the 7th grade, until I evolved to penguins for the later grades.

The above photo is one of many that I have (in albums only, not digitized) of that night. A moment shared with my brother because my parents held him back in school. People thought we were twins growing up and we were practically raised as twins. You can see by the look on my face that I much preferred to have the moment for myself. I didn't want to share it with anyone. My parents had a reception at the house after the graduation ceremony, and I was surprised by all of the gifts on the dining room table. Most of the gifts were the standard stuff you give to grads, including pens, stationery, souvenir advice books written specifically for graduates, etc. I was shocked by the amount of gifts because my dad had told me that the only gift we were getting was a copy of my church's Holy Scriptures (a triple combination featuring the Holy Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants) with the church seal on the front. Since I was in my "atheist phase" at the time, I told my dad (rather snottily), "If that's all I'm getting, then don't bother. I don't want it."

So, he didn't give me a copy. I ended up buying my own copy in 1994, when the church put out a special "Temple Edition", which is actually a lot nicer. The gift I wish my parents gave me, though, was a family trip to Thailand. My dad had hinted that he might take the entire family for a visit to Thailand as our graduation gift. I was really excited about it, but it didn't happen. I think this idea also caused problems in my parents marriage at the time. By the end of 1990, my parents weren't speaking to one another and used me as an intermediary, which made me uncomfortable. I had never seen my parents fight in my entire life, and they weren't speaking with each other in December? It made me wish that I had gone to basic training much sooner after enlisting rather than waiting until the following Spring. In fact, the Christmas of 1990 was the worst one I've ever had. I was scared that my parents were headed towards divorce and to add to the stress, my 9 year old sister had a temper tantrum as we were opening presents on Christmas Eve. All because she accused mom's friend of "stealing her earrings". It was a miserable time. As the issue resolved itself, I learned that what brought on the crisis was the fact that my mom's mother had died that December and the last time she had seen her mother was in 1975, when our family last visited Thailand. Had my father taken us on the family trip to Thailand that summer, my mom would have gotten to see her mother one last time and her mother would get to meet my sister (who wasn't born yet when my family visited Thailand).

Now, everytime I bring up the possibility of a family trip to Thailand, my mom says that she doesn't want to go, even though she still has siblings and cousins there. I guess it wouldn't be the same for her with her mother gone. Still, this is one family trip I have been wishing for the past 20 years. If I ever won the lottery or sold my novel for a large sum of money, I will pay for my family's vacation in Thailand for a month. It matters that much to me. Another thing, my parents also passed the 40 year mark last December. I would have been devastated if they had divorced in 1990, even though I was soon to be off on my Navy adventure. A divorce probably would have ensured that I reenlisted in the Navy so I would not have to return to Georgia for college. I'm pretty rigid about my parents marriage. They aren't allowed to get a divorce. I would refuse them permission to, if the subject ever came up. They have an incredible love story (even more fascinating than the Gores fairy tale marriage). I truly believe that my parents are soulmates who had made an agreement in the spiritual realm to meet in this lifetime and marry. You'd have to know them to understand this viewpoint.

I'm on the far left in the above photo. The guy on the right, whose name I can't remember, was one who begged me not to wear my infamous Batman hightops. In the summer of 1989, I actually talked my dad into buying a pair of black Converse hightops with the yellow "Batman" symbol imprinted all over them. He said that he would only buy them if I wasn't too embarrassed to wear them at school. So, I kept my promise, despite the taunts during the first week of school. By the end of the school year, it became my trademark. I hadn't planned to wear them to the graduation ceremony, until that guy begged me not to "ruin" our class graduation ceremony. For that reason alone, I decided to wear them. It wasn't a big deal. I doubt that anyone was paying attention to my feet or shoes, anyway. I felt enough of an individual with them on. I still have this pair of shoes in the box it was sold in. Saved for posterity's sake.

The graduation ceremony was held in the school gym. Wasn't a fan of that idea. I really wanted it held outside at the stadium. However, when we walked into the gym and faced a gauntlet of flashbulbs going off, I realized that I liked it better indoors. I felt like a celebrity for the first time in my life. It was pretty awesome. My biggest worry that night was that I would trip on the stage and fall on my face. I think that's probably everyone's fear. It was an exciting night, a culmination of 12 years of school life. However, it was also sad, as well, seeing friends for what might be the last time and wonder if they would keep their promises to keep in touch. Most did not. Surprise. Thanks to Facebook, though, I've had quite a few "mini-reunions" online with long lost friends and it is fun catching up. There were some after graduation parties, but with my grandparents and my Great Uncle Jim and Great Aunt Effie in town, the reception at home was enough for me.

My parents had an open house also, in which neighbours and people from church dropped by. I got to practice answering the same questions..."So, what are your plans?" I hadn't really thought about my plans. All I knew was that my dad was not paying for my education and recommended that I apply to DeKalb Community College, which had the unfortunate geography of being directly across the street from my high school. With many of my friends off to the University of Georgia in Athens (a party / college town about 90 miles east of Atlanta) or out of state universities, I thought it was too embarrassing to go to DeKalb Community College. I did not want to see my old high school every day. I did apply to Georgia State University, but by graduation time, I pretty much counted on the Navy to save me from the fate of community college (or 13th grade).

I was surprised by all of the gifts people gave, and I surprised everyone by sending hand drawn thank you cards (featuring my standard penguin drawing in a green graduation cap and gown like mine). People really thought it was a nice touch. The biggest surprise gift was from my U.S. government teacher, who had sent me a t-shirt that had "Carpe Diem" on it. The note simply read: "Seize the Day! From the Real Mr. Keating." I was surprised. I didn't expect a teacher to give me a gift. And I learned from other classmates in his government class that they received no such gift from him.

That night, I went to bed euphoric. It was probably the most euphoric I had ever felt in my life at that point, and when I woke up the following morning, I remember thinking, "What now?" I took some of my graduation money and went to the nearest music and bookstores. The Sound Warehouse had a special promo on albums to check out. One of them happened to be Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World by Johnny Clegg and Savuka, for only $5.99 with a money back guarantee if you did not like it. I figured that was worth an investment. I had heard one song of his in 1988 and knew he was popular in France. From the opening chants to the final ballad about true friendship, I was blown away. I had never heard an album this great before. I was hooked. So began my Johnny Clegg and Savuka / Juluka craze. I bought this cassette on June 7th. I learned years later that Johnny Clegg's birthday is June 7, 1953. Weird synchronicity. This album is still my all-time favourite. It truly changed my life.

Its incredible to reflect on how much our world has changed since 1990. Most people did not have a cell phone, because they were expensive, large, and heavy. The Internet was still a military technology. Music came in three formats: records (getting rarer), cassette (the more common format), and compact disc (growing in sales). You either watched television shows when they aired or you set a timer on your VCR. Movies were released on VHS about a year after they were in theaters (now the average turnaround time is three to five months on DVD). Laptops were rare. People saved data on floppy disks, which were larger and bendable at first, before switching to the 3.5" hard-shell. Forget about iPods, iPads, iPhones, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, getting your news through the computer, YouTube, eBay, amazon, cafepress, paypal. MTV still played music videos most of the time. It feels like ancient history. Amazing how much our lives have changed in the past twenty years. I can't imagine living an Internet-free life today. Its like the dark ages!

One of the best warnings the Company Commanders gave us in Basic Training was telling us not to be suckered into buying an Encyclopedia set. Encyclopedia salesmen were on every base, waiting to talk young, naive sailors into buying a set. Why would I need one on a ship? The irony for me is that the most common misperception of me by my classmates of Clarkston High School was that I read the encyclopedia every night! They did not believe that I hardly ever touched my dad's much dated Encyclopedia set (his was circa 1968). I saw them as a worthless investment. They're outdated as soon as you pay them off. In the Internet Age, do they even have Encyclopedia salesmen anymore?

Class of 1990...we rock! But we don't quite rule just yet. I have a feeling that we're going to have to force the Boomers off the stage in our business, political, and military worlds. Our class motto was a lame: "If we can't find the road to success, we'll build one." Well...twenty years later, I'm still trying to find that road. Its been a rough road and I sometimes wonder what the 18 year old me would think of the 38 year old me. I'm not rich, I'm not famous, I'm not married, and I'm not a dad. I think he would be mighty pissed off. "What's your problem, old man? Get off your fat butt...uh, you aren't fat are you? You better not be! Anyhow, get off your butt and publish that damn novel, write some more, and find a wife already! You want a son. Remember? A son!"

Um. Okay 18-year old me. I'll get right on that. So...lovely ladies of Portland...which one of you wants my help in bringing a son into our material world?

Better yet..."Hey 18 year old me. Why don't you chill out? You get to live in Italy for three amazing years and travel all over Europe. You become friends with several French families, get to ride a submarine for three days, and go on a dream vacation to South Africa. You also meet Johnny Clegg three times! You live on an aircraft carrier for a year, and study political science at the Mormon's university. You have an amazing set of coincidences when you meet your second best friend, Nathan. You even get to be best man at his wedding and he invited you to spend the best Christmas of your life in Hawaii when you're in college. You get to have two different cars and fulfill your dream of having been to all 50 states. You intern for the White House and get to meet Vice President Gore several times. You date and fall for some incredible ladies. Yeah, they break your heart, but you survive. Best of all, you meet a lot of amazing people and you become this incredibly spiritual person."

"Spiritual, old man? I'm an atheist, remember? I stopped believing in God sometime between Thanksgiving 1989 and Easter 1990."

"Yeah...spiritual. Listen, you'll have the most amazing set of coincidences in 1993 and 1994 that your adolescent rebellion against God will appear silly and embarrassing. Those coincidences will transform your life in ways that Forrest Gump could only dream about."

"What's a Forrest Gump, old man?"

"You'll find out in 1994, which will be an awesome year for you."

Yeah...the coincidences. I did not count on coincidences to take my life in a different direction. Life is a journey through the unexpected. It hasn't been an easy road, but it has been amazing. Here's to a more successful twenty years, with a satisfying career doing what I was meant to do, an awesome wife who "gets me" like no one else, and a son named Patrick who has a slight mischievious streak to keep us fast on our feet.

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