Last week marked the 20th anniversary of my high school graduation.
Twenty years, people… Sheesh…
Sure, 7 years ago, I passed the 20th anniversary of finishing elementary school, and 4 years ago, I passed the 20th anniversary of finishing middle school. But we all think of high school as those majorly formative teenage years, and the end of that era begins a new phase of independence.
When I was in high school, I never really thought of where I’d be in 20 years. The questions all seemed to make us think of where we’d be in 10 years. Perhaps because we all thought our answer for 20 years as “old.” I remember being in the 8th grade and putting together a toy stuffed dog with a “Class of ’90” T-shirt and fully realizing that I was graduating from high school in just four years.
The days leading up to the graduation are fuzzy in my memory now. I seem to remember just wanting it to be done. I think I was tired of everyone and everything, and I just wanted to move on. It probably wasn’t the best attitude to have toward people who had been my friends for years, and I ended up regretting it a bit when I did go off to college a couple of months later when I was the only one from my school who went to Columbia College. I literally knew one person there — Kelly — but she was a year ahead of me.
The most vivid memory I have of graduation day is sitting on the back row of my aunt and uncle’s van — larger than a minivan, but not a camper — after we’d gone to lunch. I sat between my aunt and my mom, and I looked down at my high school ring. I didn’t get mine through the school; we decided to go through a local jewelry store because it was cheaper and came back sooner. Unfortunately, the options didn’t exactly match what was offered through the company the school used. So instead of having a bull head and “Mavericks” on one side, it had a bull head and “Longhorns,” and instead of having two crossed flags for colorguard, there was a flag, a boot, and a pom pom for drill team. (And our band director was always quick to point out that we did NOT, in fact, have a drill team. One time at a competition, the judges mistook our routine for being a drill team and gave us a first-place trophy. Mr. B sent it back.) At least the correct high school name was lettered around my emerald birthstone.
But back to that moment in the van. Someone had told me that when you wear your class ring in school, you wear it so that the high school name faces you, but after graduation, you’re supposed to turn it around so that the high school name faces everyone else.
Despite being two decades removed from that graduation day, I still remember sitting in that van and turning my high school ring and somehow realizing that I myself was changing direction as well.
That summer, I mostly hung out with my friend Kelly, since she would be my lifeline on a campus full of strangers. (And she was tremendous. She called my dorm room on the day I moved in for freshman year and asked if my parents had left. I tried to keep my “yes” as emotionally collected as possible, and she replied, “I’ll be over there in a couple of minutes.”) I remember her saying that while you still come home when you’re in college, it’s never the same as when you lived at home during high school.
Kelly was right. I never really came home to experience anything. Everything that changed me those next four years happened at college. I supposed that’s why I’ve never felt compelled to attend a high school reunion. It’s nothing against my friends, because, thanks to the world of Facebook, I’ve gotten back in touch and met up with a handful of high school friends. It’s just that I consider myself to be such a different person now that I don’t feel the need to go back and visit the way I was. And I definitely don’t feel like I have to go back and show anyone how I’ve changed.
Perhaps if I win an Oscar for Best Screenplay before the 30-year-reunion, I’ll show up — and take my statue with me, of course.