30-Year Class Reunion: Finally Ready for High School!

I hate that I’m missing my 30-year reunion today, it being 2,136 miles away and coming at a time when I just can’t break away from work.   But it’s had me thinking for several weeks now:

How was high school?  What was I like?  What were my friends like and where are they now?  How much have they changed?  How much have I changed?  Are my memories and impressions accurate?  What was the point of it all?

I must admit that if I enjoyed high school, it was only marginally so.  I was the depressed sort, also given to much frustration with the quirks of the world around me.  So my overall view of that entire period in my life is not particularly a positive one.  There were a few bright spots, however—the sorts of things that come to mind from time to time.  Here’s a short list, again in no particular order:

  • Band Director Richard Murphy teaching me to play tennis after school, and eventually training me well enough that he was willing to have me as a doubles partner.
  • Watching the football team win two state championships.
  • Playing clarinet duets and trios with Beth Barksdale and Rita McAlpin in the band room at lunch.
  • Sending coded messages to history teacher Lloyd Daniels—as well as finding his actual classes to be of personal interest.
  • Hearing my buddy Michelle Mansfield exclaim, when seeing me on the first day of school in 11th grade, “You’re a man!”.  (Apparently, I had matured over the summer.)
  • Boxing (in a friendly way) with Josh Triplett in the band room on the last day of school in ’82.  He had a set of gloves and we wore ourselves out without hardly landing a punch or even a jab.
  • Blowing one of the school’s main circuit breakers while attempting to rewire the auditorium stage lighting with John Gilbert for Li’l Abner.
  • Sneaking onto the football field with Pam Zimmerman and David Sellick the night before graduation to set up some surprise fireworks for the ceremony.

In retrospect, I find it quite interesting that hardly any of this had anything to do with the educational routine of school.  And that point is probably worthy of an entire book!   Indeed, if we were there to study, why isn’t study and learning one of my most cherished memories?  But that’s another topic!

My Regrets

Over the years, as I have continued to mature, I have realized a considerable amount of folly in my youthful ways—things I now generally regret.  I thought it would be interesting to put them in a list, so here it is, in no particular order:

  • I regret that I was so scared of people—so personally insecure.  It kept me from getting to know people better, from having more friends, from learning more, and from taking more risks.
  • I regret that I was arrogant and brash.
  • I regret that I was quite biased and did not know how to listen objectively to other people’s points of view.
  • I regret that I never played football for Coach Jones—although I’ve had three knee surgeries just from casual volleyball since, so I’d probably be in a wheelchair had I played football!
  • I regret that I spent so very much time around people, and still, somehow, didn’t seem to know how to actually get to know most of them very well at all.  We were terrible at that, it seems.
  • I regret that, having invested so much in so many relationships, almost every one of them became disposable the moment I drove away after graduation.  At this point in my life, this seems the most foolish thing of all.
  • I regret having taken pride in being on the Brain Brawl team.  I now understand that that was mostly about trivia, and that it didn’t really represent much in the way of any substantial achievement.
  • I regret that I was religiously zealous without having taken the time to check out the facts of my beliefs before presuming them to be accurate.
  • I regret the same thing about my political views.
  • I regret that I didn’t master physical fitness in high school.
  • I regret that I didn’t read more—a lot more.  It is the very thing that is hardest to accomplish today, and yet it is the most needful activity of all if we actually wish to learn anything new.
  • I regret that I didn’t understand the nature and value of reality—that I held to beliefs and behaviors of various kinds that weren’t based on reality, that I would lie or exaggerate or overemphasize beyond the boundaries of what was real.
  • I regret that I hurt people—people who themselves may well have been struggling with the same self esteem and reality issues I was.
  • I regret that I didn’t understand what “win/win” is all about.
  • I regret that I had no mentor in high school—no one to wrestle with me over the “why” of existence and the sense of purpose that comes from having identified that “why”.
  • I regret that I had let the school system suck the marrow of curiosity and aspiration out of my bones.  In fact, when my senior year was coming to a close, I was tired of school and didn’t want to go to college, nor to embark on any particular career.  I was simply tired of it all and had no particular reason to go on, except that I was “supposed to”.
  • I regret that I didn’t ask more questions.  (Yes, I know I probably asked as many or more as anyone else, but it wasn’t enough.)
  • I regret that I didn’t test the answers I got to the questions I did ask.
  • I regret that I was generally an angry and brooding person.  And finally,
  • I regret that I was ever mean or rude to anyone—except, of course, to those who “had it coming”.  (OK, just kidding about that last part.)

If I Had It To Do Over

If I went back to high school today, they’d probably want to kick me out.  That’s because I’d be asking questions about everything, with the motive of wanting to master it all.  I did fine in math until I got to David Carraway’s pre-Calculus class, where I passively allowed things to get fuzzier and fuzzier, knowing that my grasp of it all was slipping away.  Since then, however, I have realized that mathematics is fundamental for understanding the reality in which we live, and I’m jealous for the amount of time it would take to master the subject.

I would have taken Mark Coyle’s Chemistry and Physics classes much more seriously, and would have been very frustrated that we didn’t have time to test everything in the textbook.  And when it comes to English, I would have actually read the assigned books before writing reports on them.  And then I would have been very frustrated that we didn’t seem to have the time in class for lively discussion about what we had read.

I took a college history class in my mid thirties and found it quite engaging.  All the other students in the class, youngsters that they were, would readily roll their eyes, and some would even sigh audibly whenever I would raise my hand to ask a question or to offer an observation.  They were there for credits, but this time, I was there mostly because I wanted to learn and to understand the material.  The teacher was quite thrilled that someone actually cared about the subject matter, but he eventually had to cut me off because we were falling far behind in covering the entire syllabus for the course!

That’s why I imagine that I’d be quite disruptive to the system if I went back to high school today!  But alas, I can’t go back.  That’s not an option.

And that’s why I have regrets.  In fact, that’s about all I can have.  That is, all I can do about high school now is to look back on it.  Since I can’t re-live it, I can simply remember it, observing new things about those memories from time to time as new information or higher levels of personal maturity make it possible to observe new things.

Taking the Wrong Fork in the Road

I, for one, took the “wrong fork in the road” in many ways during my public school years.  I don’t mean to suggest that everything I learned was wrong, mind you, but simply that I walked out with enough errors in knowledge and belief that it took me quite some years to get most of it undone and set aright.  And here I sit, thirty years later, realizing those errors with far greater awareness than I ever could have had at that time in that situation.

But here’s where my hope comes in:  I have it within my grasp to help the next generation to avoid many of those same errors.  And I have it within my grasp to help the next generation not to lose the “why” of it all—not to lose the drive and the curiosity that seems to be born naturally into just about every child I’ve ever met.

Somewhere along the way, I turned into a decent analyst and problem solver, and I’ve taken a particular shine to things like reality and personal authenticity.  So now I hold some quite audacious beliefs—such as the belief that we could work together to solve just about any problem we have, if only we cared enough to do the work required to solve it.

Interestingly, I have more hope for life now than I did in high school.  I have more hope for meaningful reform and progress than I had then.  I have more zeal for learning and understanding than ever before.  And I have a much greater sense of what to do with new knowledge once I acquire it!

I’m Finally Ready!

So I think I’m finally ready for high school!  I finally have the right attitude for it—and only 30 years too late!

Even so, however, school was never primarily about the learning; it was about the people.  It was a social process—a shared experience.  And that’s the part that I missed out on the most, having walked away from practically everybody after graduation.  Where are the life-long friendships of the sort in which you call somebody every few months or years and ponder together about how life is going?  While I have some friendships like that with a few  post-high-school friends, I simply failed to build the kind of foundations necessary for that sort of relationship while I was in high school.

And what a pity that is, for there are so many fine people amongst my classmates.  So many of them have various personality traits that are worthy of imitation.  So many have learned things since then that I would really like to know.  So many have gained life experiences that I’d like to hear about in order to broaden my perspective.

A Toast

So here’s to you, old friends, for what all we might have enjoyed together had I been ready for it—had I not been so distracted with my own brooding, and so scared to find out what you were really thinking!

My hope is that your path, too, is one of striving to be better than you are—to be more authentic with each passing year.

We might have been the best of friends in time!

Looking Ahead

I hope that all this talk of regret here does not cause you to assume that I am now melancholy as I was in school.  These regrets are honest, indeed, but they come from a mind that now knows (and behaves) somewhat better.  I am not bogged down by these regrets, but empowered by them.  Since I know I cannot re-live those years, I simply resolve not to make the same mistakes again in my present or my future!

Indeed, even though things look bleaker and bleaker with each passing decade in our country, I find myself taking more and more hope in succeeding in my own personal growth, as well as in helping others to grow, too.  And even though many don’t, I still believe we could fix our nation if we wanted to.

Indeed, here is my mantra of late:

Life is short; why not do something extraordinary while we are here?!


And so I salute you, Wakulla High School Class of 1983.  I hope you enjoy the reunion.

And to all my other classmates and school friends who graduated in other years, I send you my best wishes as well.


Jack Pelham




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