Back to School

As I’ve written before, this year I spoke at the Fernie Secondary School graduation, forty years to the day after I graduated from FSS in that same arena. And, accordingly, on the August long weekend, as Fernie sweltered under smoky skies and the grass crisped to dull brown, the graduating class of 1983 held its forty-year reunion.

Our ten-year was held at Fernie Snow Valley when a classmate’s parents still owned and operated the hill. Our twenty-year was at the Fernie Golf & Country Club and afterward, decamping to a hotel bar, there was an unrelated stabbing for which a couple of our number helped the victim until the professionals arrived. There wasn’t enough energy or ambition or desire or time to hold a thirtieth. 

Ten and twenty were fun, organized events (stabbing aside) but forty was more casual, mostly a call-out over social media that saw a group of us gather at a local tavern to catch up. It is interesting to trace the arc and feeling of each event. 

The ten was really just a check-in at the starting gate. At the time I was back in school at UVIC, others already launched on early careers, some married some not, a few small children. The tenor one of striving, competition. There were reminiscences sure, but mostly it was about setting yourself on a trajectory and trying to impress your school mates where you were optimistically headed. One of us had already won an Olympic gold medal in Barcelona in 1992. He quite humbly had it with its ribbon crumpled into his blazer pocket on the off-chance people would want to see it. Boy did they. 

At twenty, it was more about where you were. Many locked into careers that we would stay in for the duration, having kids or had kids, and grateful for the opportunity to see how others were doing. The sense of competition, of trying to impress, diminished but not gone. In my memory it was more just a welcome stopping place in busy work and family lives. You knew everyone was enjoying themselves in full knowledge that they were going back, noses to grindstones. 

This year, while our number was greatly diminished, both from those potentially available and those no longer available at all, I found the tone quite different. Most of us at the back end of careers, no longer striving, no longer out to impress. Children grown and starting out, parents aging, classic sandwich generation stuff. Everyone more open, egos quieted. I found things out about my classmates’ high school experience that I never knew or guessed in the intervening years. When people describe high school as a dumpster fire, I used to suspect that was just for a few, or at most half, but I have come to realize it’s likely true for nearly everyone. I’ve had to adjust my perceptions of people and retroactively adjust my perception of our collective experience. 

It’s humbling and gratifying. I am grateful to every one of them. I know a bunch of them a bit better and like all of us a lot more.