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The theme of my high school graduation was We See the Light. I suppose in 1977 it didn’t sound quite as lame as it strikes me today and I couldn’t tell you exactly what light we were looking at.
My friend Richard and I didn’t fit into the upper echelon categories – sports teams, cheerleading squad, top academics. We were pretty much relegated to the literary magazine club so all we had in the zero-sum struggle of the high school pecking order was to use our creativity to bring others down to a place slightly below us. We listened to Dr. Demento, the National Lampoon Radio Hour (joke in itself as it was only a half an hour), and the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. We used my cassette tape recorder to create “shows” making fun of teachers and popular students. The recordings are long gone now, of course, but I do remember making one called “We See the Light” where we mimicked the snotty valedictorian named Anita making a self-indulgent graduation speech.
Downstream, we used to make fun of Anthony who we considered dimwitted. I don’t think he was but, for some reason, he was the punchline to our jokes as if he was Agent 86 or Inspector Clouseau who no matter how hard he tried, always got it wrong. Our taunts were always behind his back, mind you, and quite honestly we never really got to know him.
His place in our thinking came down to one prank. A group of us were sitting around when suddenly one of us (I don’t remember who) said, “Hey guys, I got a joke!”
Everyone feigned interest.
“What is the difference between two trees?” asked the riddler.
“What?” people wanted to know.
We all burst out laughing.
Of course, everyone except Anthony knew that the joke was absurd but the fun was watching Anthony’s reaction as we all went on as if the punchline hit a comedic home run. He would begin to laugh, stop and think intently, and then start to laugh again, and then stop and think some more. He was clearly confused as to what was so funny but couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t see it like the rest of us.
But the more satisfying prank was upstream against Anita the valedictorian. My auto shop teacher left a stack of detention forms on his desk for convenience so it wasn’t difficult to slip one into my notebook. We sent her detention from her English teacher. In the reason portion of the form, we typed something to the effect, “Anita, for the most part, does well in class but she irritates me.”
The following week, my friend Richard who shared the English class with her, could hear the animated hallway conversation between Anita and their teacher. He recounted her saying over and over again, “My mother was so mad! She was so mad!”
I’m within a handful of years of my 50th high school reunion, a prospect that had always been inconceivable. When I look back at those days, where we looked forward to the future as if the way forward was obvious, I sometimes wonder if I did successfully follow the lighted path we all assumed we saw.
I got a degree, got married, raised children, worked daily and faithfully at jobs for many years, gained the esteem of coworkers, did volunteer work in churches, dabbled in writing though nothing serious. If nothing else, the light I thought I was following at least wasn’t the proverbial train. An internet search indicates that Anita became the accomplished woman she wanted to be. I don’t think about Anthony and have no idea what became of him. I wonder about Richard though, and I am not sure if he is even alive anymore.
One of the gifts of age is understanding that life is not always so well-lighted. The decisions we made are the decisions we made and we never really know if they were the best ones. We have a thousand “what ifs” that we simply have to put aside and move on. And we learn that people are more complex and nuanced than the molds we thought they fit into.
Young people today across the nation look forward with a certain confidence and naivete believing that they too see the light having very little practical experience as to what life is really like. And as they pursue the path ahead, some will make it well and some won’t.Published in