The moment frozen in time: caps, filled with hopes and dreams, thrown high in the sky. The class of 1966 set off into the world, eager, excited and with little idea of the life ahead. Now, almost 50 years later, we reassemble along with the class of '65.
Fifty years ago, armed with yearbooks filled with heartfelt wishes of friendship and love forever and with freedom from either the joys or traumas - or both - of high school, we were now adults able to make our own choices.
In the middle class neighborhood of Huntington Park (not the more upscale neighborhoods of Highland Park or Huntington Beach), just seven miles from downtown LA, my classmates and I went off into the exciting and turbulent times of the sixties. The neighborhood was a mix of Caucasians and Latinos, a place where most of us walked everywhere, it was safe to play in the streets and although so close to the rest of Los Angeles, we could have been living in the mid-West. Some graduates went right to work, some went college, some got married and some went to Vietnam. The halcyon days of high school soon succumbed to the realities of real life.
Even though the words were unspoken, most of us will never see each other again. Yet the real value of the 50th year reunion is perhaps the awareness that many of us did make it this far in the journey and, in some way, to give each other a boost and a reminder of how fragile life is. Each day is something to be made sacred. Perhaps, it is also to reclaim, even in our mid-60's, some of the aspirations and hopes from that day when we set our caps off into the sky. Even though our youth is gone, we can enter the final decades of life with youthfulness and hope - and perhaps with more skills than we possessed back then to make our dreams into a reality.
Sitting here 50 years later, it hits me how surreal this all is. Actually, I was not sure why I really came to this reunion. Where had the decades gone? I am caught between the reality of being 17 in 1966 and meeting some old guy from the class of 1916, who appears to have no connection to my life, or even life at all, and the idea of my meeting a young person from the class of 2015 and knowing very well how she sees me: a relic from an ancient time. She does not see my idealism, my dreams, and my connection to this world.
Yet the three of us are inextricably linked in the web of life and time. As human beings, we don't know the future, we yearn to reclaim the past and we have difficulty living in the present. Why do we come to a 50th-year reunion? Is it to go in a time capsule for one night, reclaiming our youth? Is it for one night to forget the existential realities of growing older, loss and illness?
For the classes of the mid-sixties, we lived between the ordered world portrayed in Leave it to Beaver and the changing times that Archie Bunker faced. Our lives were caught in the haze of change - between a world of social rules and values and a world where everything became open for discussion. Many of my classmates seem to have held on to conservative values - only embracing change out of necessity.
Our 50-year journey has been marked by tremendous social change, civil unrest, technological advancements, political assassinations, loss of trust in public leaders, empowerment of women, African-Americans, Gays and Lesbians and a significant increase in violence, prison population and the decline of public education - to name but just a few of the many changes.
I realized that there were three categories of alumni. The first is those who chose to participate - about fifteen percent attended. Their stories reflected the vicissitudes of the journey: joys of children and grandparenting, failed marriages, professional success and disappointment, death of loved ones including spouses, siblings and children, drug and alcohol abuse, lives of purpose and time squandered. This reunion was different than any of the previous one - I did not hear any of the wishes of "See you in ten years." Everyone there knew the reality of what might happen to many of us in the next decade.
There was a lot of conversation about who had died. I heard the question all evening: How did he/she die? Why that question? Is it because of the fate we are all keenly aware of, that eventually we will all be on the deceased list? I found it quite intriguing that the question was not followed up with: What was his/her life like? What did he/she do? Perhaps it was easier to talk about those no there then to really engage each other.
Then there are all the people who had died: in Viet Nam, by cancer, by broken hearts, by their own hands in despair. Life had taken many of them way too early. The only image most of us had of them is the youthful picture in the yearbook. Perhaps it's better to hold on to that image?
The final group, by far the largest, was the vast majority of people who did not attend. One can only speculate why: illness, embarrassment about their appearance or life, economics (the reunion cost $120), not wanting to see their classmates fifty years older, not wanting to be seen fifty years older?
Was it worth going to the reunion? Yes. It was perhaps the last leap back into the formative years of my adolescence. It made me feel good about how far I had come from the neurotic anxieties which had permeated my life at that time. Finally, it did give me perspective into the future - that it is the present, not the past or the future, which needs to be valued and lived fully. I can still throw my cap into the sky and fill it with realistic goals and dreams.