Friday, August 29, 2014

Takeaways from My 50th High School Class Reunion

Four weeks ago, my wife and I attended my 50th high school class reunion. My wife graduated a year behind me, so she knew my classmates too. Sixty percent of our class of 408 made it to the reunion. What a blast we had renewing old friendships, sharing pranks we pulled on teachers, reliving sports victories and defeats, and learning how life had gone for the people we grew up with. It was nostalgia at its best. But it was more than that, a lot more.

On the second day of the reunion, we toured the new high school, built after a fire destroyed part of the old school. What a campus it is. Occupying 14 or 15 blocks, it looks more like a college than a high school. The design of the school was well thought out. The facilities—from computer labs, to the performing arts theater, to the athletic training facility—were all first class. Better than many colleges and universities.


Though it was July, there were a few students walking through the beautiful campus. Most had their faces turned down, peering into the display of some gadget they held in their hands, while thumbs or fingers pressed or poked at a furious pace. What were these students actually doing? Communicating? I don’t think so. They were sending information via a mechanism slightly better than Morse Code. Missing from what they sent were the facial expressions, body language, and vocal expression that were part of communication when my class attended the school. This subject came up at our class dinner that evening. There was a consensus, and that consensus, not the negatives, is what I want to emphasize with this post.

If you were born in 1946, whether or not you are from Oklahoma, you are a Boomer Sooner, a person born at, or slightly before, the cusp of the baby boom. And our generation was blessed in many ways. We had no joysticks or game controllers. Rather, using our collective imaginations and face-to-face social interaction, we created our own live games, not video simulations. For the guys, what could be more fun than dividing up the neighborhood kids into two armies, negotiating the ground rules for our battle, and then playing our individual roles, which required running, jumping, hiding, until one side prevailed. And, if your side lost, you still got the satisfaction of acting out a dramatic death, leaving the game in a blaze of theatrical glory.

My best buddy, his sister, and I tore apart some old radios and, from carefully selected components, built the control panel of a spaceship in the attic of an old shed. From that attic we traveled the galaxies, exploring, fighting against evil forces, sometimes getting captured, but always knowing that right would prevail in the end. We did this in the mid-fifties, long before Star Trek or Star Wars. And our communication was always face-to-face. We talked. We touched. Sometimes we argued, but we resolved disagreements quickly because it’s really hard to flame someone when you’re staring them in the face, much harder than when you view them as nothing more than a producer of irritating text coming from  a vaguely familiar username on some web site.

Our play and our communication was more fun, more full of imagination, and certainly healthier, than what most kids experience today. Is there a way to capture a clear picture of our childhood and then show it to our grandchildren, or our grandnephews and nieces, so they understand what they’re missing?

If you have some ideas, I’d love to hear them, because I have 7 grandchildren who could sure use a glimpse of what I had as a child and what you probably had too.

H L (Harry) Wegley served in the military as a USAF Intelligence Analyst and a Weather Officer. In civilian life, he performed weather research, publishing in the scientific literature. After earning an advanced Computer-Science degree, he developed computing systems for 20+ years, then he and his wife retired near Seattle, where he writes inspirational thrillers. He has a contracted, 4-book, Christian-thriller series with Pelican Book Group. The 4th book releases in November 2014. He is currently working on his 8th novel.


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12 comments:

Patti Shene said...

What a great post, Henry! I am ashamed to admit that I have fallen into the world of tech communication, although not to the degree that the younger generations have. Still, every now and again, I need a face to face visit, meal, whatever, with a friend or relative sitting across from me where we can actually talk. Those childhood games, oh yeah! Our back yard was about the size of a football field, so the neighborhood kids liked to congregate there for games. My favorite imaginary game: acting out scenes from Gunsmoke! HA!

H L Wegley said...

Gunsmoke -- My buddy and I would shove an old broomstick down our pantleg and try to walk across the yard yelling, "Mr. Dillon!" Matt was the hero, but Chester had a special place in our hearts.

Ane Mulligan said...

Loved this, Harry. Mu 50th reunion is being held in Nov. Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it, since it's clear across the country. But I felt like I did just reading your experiences. Thanks for the vicarious 50th! :o)

max said...

One of the reasons I began writing action-adventures and mysteries, for middle grade readers, is precisely to help address some of what you’ve said here. I, too, was born in 1946 and, along with my friends, used our imaginations to come up with all sorts of fun – and mischief. I spent most of my life in the production of dramatic films, video programs, and television commercials. Now my books aim to help kids, who are willing to try them, discover and use their imaginations. I often speak in schools where I hit this subject pretty hard. http://www.maxbooks.9k.com/whats_new.html
Yours is a great post. Thank you for writing it. My 50th reunion is this October, but I’m not planning to attend.
Max Elliot Anderson
Amazon Author Page http://www.amazon.com/Max-Elliot-Anderson/e/B002BLP3EE
Blog http://booksandboys.blogspot.com

H L Wegley said...

Thanks, Max. BTW, I've read most of your middle-grade boys books to my grandson. At 11, he's reading books on his own now, and he's nearly finished with The Hobbit.

Patricia Bradley said...

My 50th class reunion was last year and we didn't have nearly the turn out you did. It was a pleasant surprise when one of the cussingest, hardest drinking guys turned out to be a Baptist preacher. I always knew God had a sense of humor.
I spent many days being the outlaw one day and the sheriff the next...or Robinhood...or rolling a few logs across a ditch and me and my cousins using the logs as our horses. Often I feel sorry for kids today because they don't get to do the things we did. We'd leave the house early in the morning and not come back until almost dark. Can you imagine parents letting kids do that today?

H L Wegley said...

Pat, One of my very best friends now -- a wonderful Christian man with a sweet wife -- was a guy I wouldn't have been caught dead with in high school. Another fellow that I thought was a scrawny nerd with glasses and now particular ability, now looks like he played linebacker in college, a bold dynamic speaker who has a very effective ministry to Air Force families in Colorado Springs. Much of what we thought about students in high school has been turned completely on its head as, over the years, God worked in people's lives ... including mine.

Angela Breidenbach said...

We just had our 32nd reunion with a few other classes. I couldn't go with all the speaking travel, I hope to again in the future. But to the childhood, we rode bikes and walked to a local Tasty Freeze for an ice cream. Or we created swimming pools on the patio with garbage bags, bricks, and the hose. For some reason we were always refilling, lol. Mr. Bubble was a big thing when I was really young. He had to join us in the kiddie pool to see if we could disappear into the bubbles. And yes, we succeeded completely!

I'll add one thing though. I've had amazing communication with my children since high school and college because they'd text me. They might not talk or have time to sit down and tell me everything they wanted, but texting became a second language for us and still is. We do talk by phone and in-person, but I am truly glad texting came along because they actually communicated more with me. So I think if it's used as an enhancement, some of these techie things can really be helpful.
Angie

H L Wegley said...

Angie, Thanks! And don't forget Skype for missionary families. It has really reduced the downside of being half way around the globe from your family.

Janet K Brown said...

I loved the post, Harry. I think the only way we can convey a little of it is take them for fun stuff that has nothing to do with tech, such as a fishing trip, a hike in the forest, or a bike ride to the next town. Good luck & thanks for the memories. We celebrated our 50th last year. Oh, dear, I'm old.

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