Reunion 50

by francine Hardaway on June 12, 2008

I don’t go to my college or high school reunions, simply because I went to three universities and a high school. That would be a lot of trying to remember people. But this year was my 50th high school reunion, and one of my best friends from high school stalked me to make me come (she organizes our class reunions).

I was not looking forward to the trip. I haven’t enjoyed New York since 9/11 and I had to leave the day after Scott Coles committed suicide and miss his funeral. When I got there, I was still not in the mood.

But then I started walking around Manhattan and realizing where I grew up. I realized how lucky I was to grow up in a multicultural city with mass transit (which liberates children to go places with friends) and culture (I saw “In the Heights” and “Thurgood” at the last minute and in the same day).

On Friday I took a tour of the building in which I attended high school, which was the Bronx High School of Science in 1958 and is now Elizabeth Barrett Browning Middle School. The building is almost 100 years old, serves kids from Korea, Cambodia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Russia…you get the picture. Many computers and much English-language learning. It’s impossible to teach in everybody’s native language, so they don’t. However, there are instructions to building visitors in the lobby–in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

Then I went to a couple of cocktail parties, one given by a friend of mine from high school who now lives in 200 Central Park South, and one in the home of a classmate who lives in a West Side penthouse overlooking the Hudson and furnished with REAL antiques lovingly collected over time (not supplied on demand by a designer).

There I realized that I was very lucky to have grown up with people who have made real contributions to the world: doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and teachers all. They are fascinating, even if I don’t remember them being that way at sixteen.

On Sunday, at the actual reunion (photos here) I learned from my old friends many things about myself that I never knew:
1)I passed out at my friend’s wedding, at which I was a bridesmaid
2)I had crushes on all the people I would love today
3)I got a perfect score on every NY State Regents exam I ever took
4)I’ve had a life unlike most of theirs, because I married so many times, moved to Arizona, and changed careers a lot, when most women didn’t do any of that
5)From the outside my life is seen as exciting (well, from the inside, too)

But mostly I realized that high school, which I barely remember, shaped my life and values. In high school, we were socially conscious (I was a year ahead of Stokely Carmichael), we were intellectually curious, we were academically competitive. Most of my old friends admitted that high school was harder for them than college, or anything that followed.

Bronx High School of Science still exists, with a trophy case in the lobby of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, including one of my own classmates. It is now in a shiny new building (only fifty years old) with wireless networks and CAD classes replacing mechanical drawing (I used a slide rule and a t-square as a kid).

So if you wonder why I am such an early adopter and so crazy in love with gadgets and technology, from the Chumby to the iPhone, you have the answer. Oblivious to it when it was happening, became an educated person.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike Temenski June 17, 2008 at 12:07 pm

This comment is actually a combined response to several of the recent posts …

1. Re the Russert piece:

Interestingly, I think that I disagree with “nobody ever replaces anybody” so much that I wind up getting to the same place you are (i.e. I’d say “Somebody always replaces everybody.”)

The point of creative destruction is, I think, that the “replacement” is not 1:1 – from the pool of “somebodies” there will always emerge those with “better” replacements not just for the actors, but for the roles as well; and disruptive pain notwithstanding, I think that this is good.

Beyond the obvious Schumpeter and Sombart references, I think it appropriate to look to Max Page’s work on The Creative Destruction of Manhattan from 1900 to 1940 for analogies on constant reinvention (hey, I may be an MBA, but I can’t escape the MA in Urban Planning – nor can I deny the fascination with my home town ) There are good things about the process and there are certainly bad things – but there is undeniably a vitality to it all. From the vitality comes not only progress, but (often more importantly) a dynamic “well being” for the entire system. This is a point that ties together two themes that often show up in your blog – the constant evolution of entrepreneurial opportunity and the (seemingly) constant “non-evolution” of development in the Valley of the Sun.

BTW, the Union Square Park posting made me smile (Union Square being only a few blocks from my old H.S.) Thanks.

2. Re the Scott Coles piece:

One of my friends from undergraduate days wound up taking that option. We found out about it when we attended our 25th reunion. Almost 5 years later, it still bothers me. Not that I don’t understand considering a quick exit – I’ve thought about it a number of times. However, every time I consider it, I come to the conclusion that there are better alternatives. Even when I’ve had things blow up on me big time, I’ve been able to execute a reboot. Accepting the failure, as well as picking up a few lessons as to what to do differently the next time, has let me survive a couple of reinventions. It hurts to see someone, especially a friend, decide that reinvention isn’t possible – it may be painful, but it is always possible (link to above … creative destruction can work on a personal level as well as on a social/economic level)

3. Re the Reunion 50 entry:

This piece really got me thinking. Without a doubt, HS shaped me as much or more than college; they both shaped me more than either grad school program. In this context, it is interesting how I’ve responded to the reunions that I have attended.

HS – these are the folks I should feel most comfortable with … they are, after all, the most like me. I do not, however, attend many of the reunions – and when I have, I have felt very awkward. The 25th was so uncomfortable that I skipped the 30th. If I were still the same person I was in ’75, I’d have enjoyed the heck out of the reunion. If I’d completely reinvented myself, I think that would have worked too. But I found that I wound up feeling oddly out of phase – like I was still me, but not part of “them” – and that was very disconcerting. This disconnect raises some interesting issues for me – particularly when I look at my normally blanket confidence in the value of personal reinvention.

College – I go every 5 years. I only stay in touch with 4 or 5 of my classmates on a regular basis – but I find it very easy to fall back into a comfortable group dynamic with the entire crew from my house. It is quite the opposite of the HS reunion experience – there is a strong sense of “us.” What’s more, each time I go back, my circle seems to expand. My circle(s) while in school totaled 20, 25 people tops. I’d say that I spent time with three times that many at my last reunion.

B-School – I went for the first several reunions – then I stopped going. The folks that I spent time with at the reunion were the same folks I stay in touch with anyway. Everyone else seemed less concerned with meeting friends than with either letting us know how successful they were or triangulating what benefits could be gained by cultivating which contacts. I understand “working” the network – its my primary means of securing business – but when it takes precedence over personal relationships I just back off. (my grad school is also a lot more pushy about fund raising than my college – if you don’t contribute much $$, forget about getting more than a vaguely contemptuous acknowledgment from any professors you meet at the reunion.)

Grad-School – I’ve never gone to the reunion. The environmental planners never got past the fact that I was also a B-school person. (Funny that the B-schoolers thought that I was a bit wacky for the urban planning work yet still accepted me as a legit MBA type, while the planners pigeonholed me as a closet fascist. Oh well.)

SO what does this all have to do with the thread running through this email? Well, it seems that personal reinvention is not a linear process that runs in series through your life. It is more like a parallel circuit. I am rooted in the person that I was in NYC in 75 – but I am a different person to each of the groups with which I interact (the reunion groups being a small subset.) I’ve lost more than I’d like along the way (I recently realized that the most frequently played song on my iPod was “Burning Bridges” – the theme from Kelly’s Heroes) but I think that Page’s analysis is somewhat relevant here: whether the successes have outweighed the failures (they have) is really beside the point – reinvention IS life, it must be pursued on multiple levels, accepting the fact that responses/results are uncertain – and that’s at the heart of both the opportunities you talk about and the reason why life is an adventure (aka “worth living’.)

LL&P everyone

Mike T

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