Amid June heat and humidity in an oppressive graduation gown at the Cole Field House at the University of Maryland, I got in line and walked up to receive my high school diploma. Bowie Senior High School in Bowie, Maryland experienced one of its largest graduating classes ever—if not the largest at more than 900 graduates.
June 15, 1975 was a big day for me because no one ever believed I’d graduate from high school. I was a terrible student. My parents and siblings sat there spellbound in a very surreal moment. I believe my mother passed out—and not from the heat either. I review my report card today and wonder how on Earth I did it. I had more E’s than an energy-efficient refrigerator. In most places, an “F” indicated a failing grade. Prince George’s County Schools in suburban Maryland just outside of Washington had a different approach.
An “E” was a failing grade.
I majored in Study Hall where I laid my head on the desk and napped. I learned by osmosis. All that knowledge in the classroom was absorbed into my head to where somehow, I wound up with a diploma. I used to skip Homeroom for breakfast at McDonald’s In truth, I was too stupid to understand that if you skipped Homeroom, you were counted at absent that day. That worked until my mother got a call from the vice principal wanting to know where I was.
I wound up walking to school for the next few weeks.
Ten years later, I was invited to Bowie Senior High School’s Class of 1975’s 10th Reunion at the Capital Centre—known unofficially as the Cap’ Center located in Landover, Maryland. When the Capital Center was razed and replaced with one of those town center shopping malls in 2002, it was a reminder of how long ago my 10th reunion was.
At your 10th reunion, most of your classmates still look the same to where you still recognize them. Bowie High’s Class of 1975 hasn’t been much on reunions in the years since 1985. Hasn’t been much interest through the years. Looks like a 45th reunion is scheduled for this fall if it isn’t canceled due to COVID.
If you’re in your sixties or seventies, you understand the emotion I am about to impart. A 10th reunion is one thing. The 45th is quite another. We will each approach our class reunions differently. If you’ve been very successful, look like a Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine cover with greying temples, and are CEO of a corporation, you’re going to feel pretty good about yourself walking into a class reunion.
However, if life has had its share of struggle and you’re working at the McCormick pepper factory separating pepper grains from fly droppings, there’s plenty of apprehension ahead. Your class reunion is going to be hard on the ego and for good reason.
You’re going to have to be creative.
Face it—you’re going to have to lie. “Man, you look great!” which is the first lie when you’re silently evaluating how they’ve aged versus how you’ve aged. “Yeah, I am a vice president at McCormick…” That’s the second lie. And, what the heck, are they really going to go to McCormick’s website to see if your name is on the masthead? If you’re going to lie at a class reunion, lie big and tell them about the $3 million bonus you got last year and how you’ve copped a nice spread in Malibu overlooking the vast Pacific.
Any way you slice or dice class reunions, it’s always about charting your progress against the progress of others. When you bump into an old buddy and they tell you they’re the head of tropical medicine at Vanderbilt, you’re going to have to work up a good story quickly and tell them you’re the head of Body Engineering at Ford Motor Company. Spool it up and tell them about the days and nights refining the new Ford GT. Heck, who’s going to know?
Then—hope they don’t have a cousin who’s in management at Ford.
Imagine the stories told at class reunions. It would be virtually impossible to find a class reunion without its share of embellishment. At this age, we all want to feel like we’ve accomplished great things throughout our lives—even if we haven’t. Don’t tell them about the rented tux or evening gown borrowed from your cousin Mavis.
Have your story ready weeks before the reunion.
If you’re not feeling good about yourself, think about the lives you’ve touched and made better no matter how small. Think about your success as a parent and what you’ve molded your children and grandchildren to be over a lifetime. I have a granddaughter old enough to have children—which would make me a great grandparent. That is quite an accomplishment—living long enough to become a great grandparent.
Bask in the glow of your family’s success if you can.
Maybe, you had to raise three kids all alone. Do you understand what a great accomplishment that is? It is one thing to run a corporation or design a popular car. It is quite another to raise children—alone—work two jobs to make ends meet and do it all well—alone. If you are very much alone, there are days when you must surely feel defeated. Perhaps, you’ve gotten a call from the school and your son has been suspended for fighting.
Time lost from work. Well—chalk it up to experience and scar tissue. There’s a lot to be said for not having a choice. You will get through it.
A modest paycheck becomes a few dollars smaller for lost time. And, then there’s the tough task of explaining to your son why it better never happen again. The thankless job of being challenged by a cocky teen. Perhaps you’re an aging baby boomer caring for a sick parent in their nineties who requires constant care along with raising your kids, who perhaps failed to launch or lost jobs, and grand kids.
An aging parent’s fragile life is in your hands. Going to a movie or catching a bite with a friend are out because you must be there all the time to make sure a parent doesn’t injure themselves or forget their medication. These are the life experiences that encompass heroes—not sports figures who are perceived heroes. Caring for someone carries more weight with me than rising to the top of the corporate ladder. Caregivers are angels on loan from heaven. They are the ones who care for others around the clock without asking for anything in return. They do it out of love.
Class reunions encompass people from all walks. Those who’ve done very well. Some who’ve held their own. And, those who are jobless due to the pandemic wondering how to survive and feed their families. We spend time at class reunions wondering where we fit into the picture and how to feel good about ourselves.
Tell you what I’ve learned in life, and it has taken time. Don’t waste your energy competing with the Jones. It is never good to look at someone who has been highly successful professionally or perhaps inherited a ton of money with envy because there’s no point.
And, do you know why?
Because we’re each on our own individual life journeys. Some of us were destined to be very successful professionally—and with the drive necessary to get there. However, those with a legacy of great business success have also had to sacrifice all-important time with their families if they have any. They’ve missed the most important dance they ever could have had—their kids and their spouse—because their primary objective has been to rise to the top—the oft told, “I’ve got this company grossing $800 million annually…”
Did you remember to spend time with your family?
I’ve always been a workaholic—a middle class automotive journalist who has spent a lot of time on the road, been twice divorced, and focused primarily on my career as a writer. Having a career and being a good provider has always been everything to me. Emotionally, however, my family has paid dearly because I’ve never bee successful at achieving balance.
Has this happened to you?
Are you wondering what happened to time?
There’s the adrenaline of career success and the pursuit of the next wrung on the corporate ladder. And—there’s the endless passion of doing what I do as a writer. One day, you find yourself semi-retired in the wake of another layoff wondering what’s next.
You’ve missed the dance, and your kids and grandkids have moved on.
Be not someone who envies another’s success. Be grateful for what you have. If you have the love of family and friends surrounded by those who love you—that’s your mark of success. There’s nothing greater.
And don’t forget to pick up your tux.