The year 1969 was magical. Joe Namath guaranteed the New York Jets would win the Super Bowl — and they did. Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. Thousands of music lovers traveled to Woodstock for a weekend of rock and roll. And the New York Mets won their first World Series. Somewhat lost and overshadowed in all that national excitement was the fact that 120 seniors walked across the stage at Bishop Scully High School in Amsterdam, New York, to receive their high-school diplomas. I was one of them.
At the time, my life was pretty much perfect. I had a job cutting grass for the summer, I had a spot playing first base for the local American Legion team, I was all set to move into a college dormitory in the fall, and I had a girlfriend who didn’t mind walking with me to the movies every Friday night. The only thing missing was a driver’s license, and I was working on that.
At the end of that summer, too, believe it or not, our class held its first reunion, roughly two months after our graduation. Really? Yes, really. The editors of our class yearbook had previously decided to postpone the actual publication and distribution, so that our yearbook would include pictures of spring events — such as the Senior Ball, athletic activities, and graduation — that typically get ignored if the yearbook comes out in June. Thus, with the song “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies playing in the background, we all gathered for one last party in August at a local golf club, so we could receive our yearbooks, sign them for one another, and say farewell.
Our first real reunion occurred ten years later, and it reminded me somewhat of our last few weeks of high school. We all sat with our old friends and reminisced about our “Glory Days,” and we bragged about our college diplomas and our new jobs and careers. Personally, I felt a bit out of place because I arrived alone while most of my old buddies brought their wives or significant others to the event. In addition, some attendees had already purchased houses and had pictures of children. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed seeing everyone, and I had a good time, but as I drove back to my small apartment in my used, high-mileage Ford Pinto, I felt like I had fallen behind in the game of life.
By the time I attended our 20- and 25-year reunions, I felt much more secure. I was married to a wonderful woman, we had two adorable girls, I had a good job that I enjoyed, and we finally had purchased a townhouse in a friendly community. By then, too, most of my classmates had really grown up and matured. We no longer needed to sit in our small cliques, and we could finally have a real conversation with someone we never really knew when we were all young and foolish. The experience was quietly exhilarating.
Since that 25th reunion, I honestly don’t remember how many times we’ve met, but each reunion has been sweeter and more sorrowful than the one that preceded it: “sweeter” because as we age, we see more of what we have in common and “more sorrowful” because our original class of 120 has naturally become smaller with each passing year. The losses sadden us, but they also remind us of the youthful times we shared, and they make us appreciate and prepare for the dwindling days ahead.
In her essay entitled “Friends, Good Friends — and Such Good Friends,” American writer Judith Viorst divides her lifetime of friends into seven categories. For one of those categories, she refers to her old schoolmates as “Historical” friends, and she describes the friends as those “who knew us when . . . maybe way back in Miss Meltzer’s second grade, when our family lived in that three-room flat in Brooklyn, when our dad was out of work for seven months, when our brother Allie got in that fight where they had to call the police, when our sister married the endodontist from Yonkers.” Later, Viorst explains that those friends put “us in touch with an earlier part of ourself, a part of ourself it’s important never to lose . . . We know the texture of each other’s lives.”
When I look back at my Bishop Scully days, I remember that I never wanted to skip school because all my friends were there, and as Paul Revere and the Raiders used to sing, “Oh baby, come on, let me take you where the action is.” I feel that same way today. Though I have seen most of my former classmates only infrequently through the years, I consider myself fortunate to have shared my formative years with them, and I look forward to seeing them again later this summer.
Viorst, Judith. “Friends, Good Friends — and Such Good Friends.” The Short Prose Rader, 12th ed., edited by Gilbert H. Muller and Harvey S. Wiener, McGraw-Hill, 2009, pp. 330–335.