Burris School, K-12, Muncie, Indiana
I grew up in a Midwestern rust belt college town about the size of Utica, NY. When I was young the assembly lines were humming — Westinghouse, Borg Warner (transmissions), steel wire, glass, auto parts, even slaughterhouses and other agricultural related industries. In those days it was closer to a hundred thousand residents than sixty-five thousand today, but Utica might have been bigger then too.
Through a fluke of class history, I ended up on the organizing committee for our fiftieth class reunion. I would rather call for a re-run than be part of a retrospective, but time travel is not possible yet. Still I have learned a lot already from being involved.
Our graduating class was small — only eighty-five, thank goodness. Trying to find even that few is no easy task, but it is disconcerting how accessible personal information is. Through Facebook, Linked-in, and Google the four of us on the organizing committee have been able to track down almost everyone. Those who do not use online platforms have been plucked from personal networks of those reached digitally. Some of those not found any other way have been picked off with basic Google searches, and the offer by other classmates who have people finder software. In short, there ain’t nowhere to hide folks.
We are not professionals, just four schlemiels looking for high school classmates. It turns out, I garnered through conversations among classmates, there is commercial software employed by salesmen that will call up financial and social profiles of every household on your street: how much money you make, net worth, what you buy, political activity, and more. Even without that kind of sophistication we have connected with seventy of the eighty-five even though we are spread out from Portland, OR to Houston, TX and Arkansas, to stops along the East coast. Oh, and a doctor in Sweden. So if you think you are low-profile with just a Facebook and Gmail account, you are as naked online as anyone else.
But working on this project has also painted in my imagination a collage of simple human beauty. A dancer turned archivist in retirement when she unexpectedly inherited a long-time friend’s house full of wonders. An amateur photographer in Calgary, Canada whose photographs of wild horses, bears, eagles, stars and planets are anything but amateur. Someone who works with rare books and manuscript preservation that shares glimpses of that work online. One classmate retired only to become the mayor of a teeny tiny burg in Indiana. There are hints of other stories yet to be shared that cause me to marvel at the diversity and breadth of lives lived from even this small class, rooted in this small city, far from the bright lights of wealth and fame.
I am guessing that the members of the Geneva High School Class of 1972 or the one from Mynderse Academy will have the same experience if time and opportunity allow. The aging process certainly does not make for better looking or sleeker moving human form, but like well-aged Port or Madeira it can make for more pleasingly complex and beautiful lives. That person you thought was a nerd or show off in high school, or even the bully you didn’t like, may have become a swan.