20th High School Reunion

I’m not really sure what I expected from my 20th high school reunion last week in San Antonio — or I guess I should say that I had expectations, just not specific ones. I think I figured I’d come away with some sort of understanding or insight — some “a ha” about my high school experience and the intervening years and who I am now. I’m not sure I got any of that insight, but I had a really wonderful time, and have at least a few thoughts on life 20 years on from the summer of 1989 when we all embarked from high school to build our lives.

But first a couple of bits of background.

The first thing I should say is that I’m talking about “my” reunion, but it was really “our” 20th reunion: Kathy & I were both Class of 1989 at MacArthur High School in San Antonio, where we had met 4 years earlier in marching band. That first year we didn’t interact too much, but knew each other a little bit — then a little bit later we started dating. Then for a pretty long time we did whatever you’d call the opposite of dating. Then a bit of indeterminate relationship status ensued. We cycled around a bit. I’m sure everyone else thought it was sort of funny. (sort of.)

Anyhow, we graduated and went off to opposite coasts; eventually reconnecting when Kathy was teaching in Jamaica and I was working in Austin in 1995. 5 years later, after a move to California, we got married, and then SPL came along a little over 4 years ago now. Your typical story.

So we had a bit of an built-in advantage when it comes to enjoying the weekend — we had a bunch of shared history. And that part was really great.

The second bit of context I should share is that I really liked high school a lot. Which is not to say that I was always happy — I remember that as a time of awkwardness and uncertainty — of trying to figure out what the hell to do and how the hell to act, and getting it wrong (or thinking I was) an awful lot of the time. But despite the awkwardness, Mac was really good for me, and some of the friendships and relationships and learnings from my time there form the foundation for how I operate today.

I grew up an Air Force brat, always moving around every 3 or 4 years as Dad got stationed in all these exotic locations. (e.g. Omaha, Rome NY, San Antonio, Las Vegas, etc…) We lived in San Antonio from 8th through 12th grades for me, and that was a good solid stretch of time. It was interesting this weekend to see Kathy interact with people she’s known since she was in 1st grade — so I guess more than 30 years now.

Anyway, Mac was good for me partly because it was the first place my family stayed for a while, but also because of two incredibly outstanding experiences I was involved in: marching band and Latin club.

Okay, so I’ll pause while you clean up the mess from that spit-take you just did when you realized what a stereotypical nerd I was then — and still am, really. We are who we are. 🙂

Band was singularly amazing. Friday nights in Texas are a bit of a thing — if you’ve ever seen Friday Night Lights, I can attest that it really does feel like that; there’s a momentum to high school Fridays in Texas that peaks at the football games and the hanging out that all the different groups did after the games. It’s all a lot over the top, and, again, lives up to the stereotype. And band was a big part of those Fridays — and, like football, in Texas they went a little over the top with band competition. Something like 300 bands compete every year, finishing up with state finals in Longhorn Stadium at UT.

The year before we were freshmen, the MacArthur Band and Flags had won the state championship — a first for the school — led by a band director who was a bit of an institution — everyone loved Bill Brady and wanted to do well for him. Our freshman year we started 3 weeks before school started — same time as the fall sports teams started — and the goal was to win the championship a 2nd year. A few months into the season, Mr. Brady had a heart attack and passed away unexpectedly — it’s still a little emotional for me to think about — and was my first real experience with death.

We all grieved for a while, and then picked ourselves up to try to do our best for him. And in a bit of a storybook turn, a couple of months later, on a rainy night at Longhorn Stadium, we won the state championship again. That’s the first experience I can remember of bigness — a situation that felt larger than life, that’s etched in my memory — and the first experience I can remember of a group of people being so focused, so locked in on what they were doing and where they were and who they could be — and everything just going right.

The next year we were lucky to get another outstanding director and teacher, Linda McDavitt, We never quite won state again, but we did well in the following years, and in the band hall & on the  marching field, we all learned together how to work hard, how to become really outstanding at something, how to try to catch a glimpse of transcendence. How to lead, and follow, and work together, really. It seems like a small thing, so many years ago, but I don’t really know who I would have become without that experience.

Latin contest was the same way for me, but even nerdier and probably less interesting to write about here — but it was just as important in helping me figure out who I was and what I cared about.

There was a lot of other stuff, naturally, and lots of stuff we did (and much we really shouldn’t have), but suffice it to say that I’m really fond of that period in my life. (I like most every period of my life, to tell the truth.)

Okay, so now I think we’ve got enough context  to talk about the reunion. There were a small handful of people — mostly folks from the band, naturally — who Kathy & I really wanted to see and spend time with, and we were able to do that. It was awesome to see them and the families that they’ve built and strengthened over the years. They’ve built amazing lives and families and careers, and it was fun just to learn about them. And it was really amazing how comfortable it was, how natural it was.

There were people who we really wanted to see who weren’t there — some must’ve just been a few miles away in their homes in San Antonio; others were stymied by 10,000 miles of distance. So that was a bummer.

Lots of people who I used to be good friends with but just didn’t recognize until we started talking. There were people there who I totally recognized and gave big hugs to — only to figure out we didn’t actually know each other. Awkward. But okay, really — the spirit of everyone was great that way.

Some folks were exactly who you’d imagine they’d be — they look like you thought they would, they do what you thought they’d do. There were others who were completely the opposite.  And there were some who were a little bit of both. Which makes sense — when I think about myself, I know that there are ways in which I’m *exactly* the same as I was then, and ways that I’m a completely different person. Some were easy to predict, some not so much.

And so I think that’s ultimately the lesson — that there aren’t any real lessons. That 20 years on, we’ve all done a bunch of things — some in progress, some finished, some in planning stages — but this isn’t so much a milestone as a continuation of living our lives together — a bit of a look in at lives in progress. And it seems to me that we’re all so different, but still so the same — like we were in band, trying to become something great, to catch a glimpse of transcendence. The places we look for that are different — instead of band or football or schoolwork we may work hard to be great at work or to look for transcendence in a quiet dinner with your spouse or in your son’s first smile.

But the trying, the striving, seems to me to be the same, and I had a wonderful time sharing our own striving with everyone and hearing and seeing a little bit of theirs.


  1. Nice post — marching band was a big part of high school for me, too. It’s a great exercise to have to learn how to play while marching; like learning to tell stories with sound while drawing pictures with your feet. How big was your band? We had about 200 at Punahou.

  2. It is weird to see people writing about high school reunions. My wife is having hers this month and has been trying to get the friends that she still knows (who are still in Berkeley) to go and no one else is willing to do so.

    For my part, I don’t get it but I don’t have the option. I attended two high schools for three years and dropped out (no senior year) to go to college. I’d never recognize anyone from my schools and where would I go? 🙂

    It is good to see it isn’t all Grosse Pointe Blank though the Joan Cusack line about everyone being exactly the same except it was as if they had all swelled comes to mind.

  3. Angel Armas Valdivia

    Hi John, I’m Angel Arms and extendele the invitation to participate as a speaker at our conference called “1st International Congress on Information Technology and Communication”, this year’s theme is Web 2.0 and want to invite him because we believe that extending understanding and adoption of web technologies is so important to the future of Latin America and believe that you are one of those people who has understood, adopted and applied these technologies to perfection.

    There will be 14 to October 16, covering our costs of air, lodging and meals, plus a tour of the city of Puebla, we expect a response from you to make your invitation.

    Me firing, leaving their orders, thanks