As with many things in life, the further away I get from my high school graduation, the more blanks there are for my memory to fill in. I remember our valedictorian’s name, but cannot tell you what he said. I forget who I sat beside at graduation. I forget what I ate that day, though I’m sure it was some special meal. One of the things I remember most about my grad year is my classmate, Andy Gillis.
In Grade 12, I moved out with a few other Grade 12 guys. There were four of us. Andy was the one I was most nervous about living with. He had somewhat of a reputation for getting in trouble (breaking rules, fighting, challenging our teachers). Andy and I had gone to school together since Grade 3. We were friendly enough, but we were not what I’d call friends. My earliest memory of him was in Grade 4. I was climbing up the ladder to the slide in the playground of Dr. Hugh MacPherson Elementary (now torn down) when the boy below me (Andy) yanked my pants down. I also remember him getting into a fight in Grade 4 (and several times after that). In my Grade 12 mind, Andy Gillis and I were opposite. Andy went to most of the parties and I went to very few. I was more comfortable at home with a book than I was at any party. With a few exceptions, I was a rule-follower, a pleaser on the straight and narrow path and prone to shyness. In hindsight, Andy was the best part of my Grade 12 year.
Andy surprised me. He broke the stereotype I had in my mind of who he was. For example, he was the neatest of all of us. While studying for our Exams, Andy always made us tidy the apartment first. Clutter drove him nuts. He was also loyal and kind. If he knew one of us was feeling down, he was relentless about finding out what was bothering us and doing things to cheer us up.
More importantly than breaking stereotypes, Andy is probably one of the biggest influences on me overcoming my shyness. He was always having people over. He was great at taking enough of the spotlight off of me that I was able to enjoy just hanging out. Plus, he was always up to some hilarious adventure or prank and so I didn’t have the time to overanalyze what people were thinking about me. I often credit summer camp counselling for getting me beyond my shyness, but Andy did a lot to loosen me up before I ever set flip-flop at camp. Without ever saying it, he helped me to understand that, “those who mind, don’t matter; and those who matter, don’t mind.”
Andy was “cool;” he was a member of the “in crowd” without ever really trying to be. He was comfortable talking with girls, and they loved talking to him. He was a hockey player. He did not follow a lot of rules and did what he wanted. He lied about his age and worked in a pub (they later found out and kept him on because he was such a good worker). And he thought I was great. He liked (or at least tolerated) my lame puns, he loved hearing my thoughts on things. I feel odd saying it, but he made me feel “cool.” I felt cool by association.
I don’t talk to Andy as often as I’d like. He lives in Ontario and I am here in Fernie. A couple of times a year we call each other and catch up. We are both married. He has a couple of boys heading into the teenage years and I have a toddler and a baby of my own. Every few years, Andy and I overlap in Nova Scotia, visiting family at the same time and we catch up over a campfire and guitars and a beer. High school is a long time ago. More than half my life ago. But then we sit around the campfire, recalling the stories that grow into legend with each telling (our memories filling in the increasing blanks). At those times, high school feels like yesterday.
Grads, there can be a lot of stress this time of year. Take some time to reflect, to think of the people who influenced your 13-year journey. Things like your hairstyle and what you wear matter, but they are not what you remember twenty years later. Do your hair, have fun choosing your clothes, and make time to enjoy experiences with the people who matter to you. Have fun, and appreciate these last June days you have together as classmates.