4 Things I’ve Learned Since High School
My graduating class celebrates its fortieth reunion this fall. And I realize just writing that number dates me. One of the positives of social media has been the way I’ve reconnected with friends from high school and earlier. Soon, I’ll have the chance to see in person some of the people I’ve seen only online since our graduation day in the bicentennial year of (gulp) 1976.
But the other day, I realized that I’m also looking forward to this reunion because I’ve learned a few things since that star-spangled graduation. When my classmates see me, they’ll no doubt notice my silvering hair, mom-curves, and face that reveals both laughter and pain. But I hope they’ll also see something else. The Martha (I went by my full name until I entered college) they knew back then isn’t the Marti they’ll see at the reunion. Here are four things I’ve learned since high school.
- It’s OK to be different. I always felt like the weird kid (raise your hand if you did, too). In younger years, I was left behind in the library, transfixed by my book, when everyone else returned to the classroom. I was still that kid in junior high and high school (who else wrote poetry in French and Latin?) I intentionally remade myself in my sophomore year and tried to be more outgoing, more fun, more cool (big word back then). But inside? I was still that scared little second-grader trying to fit in.
Today, I’m still different. I still live through the books I read and the words I write. I still can’t dance (although I love to), and I’ve given up the idea of ever achieving even one degree of cool-ness.
But guess what? All that reading and all those words have turned into a rewarding career. I cherish my family and friends more since I’ve learned I need alone-time to recharge. I dance no matter how silly I look. And raising five children has taught me moms aren’t cool anyway.
What makes me different also makes me special. And I like that. A lot.
- What divides us is less important than what unites us. Through the process of reconnecting with friends online, I’ve realized I knew some people better in elementary school than later on. Three elementary schools united to form our junior high and high schools, so the friendship possibilities broadened. But the separate tracks (College Prep., Business, etc.) and various clubs or other activities meant we spent lots of time with one or two groups. That was good, because we got do things what we liked with people we enjoyed. But in the process, I lost some people who were important to me. I regret that, and in the conversations I’ve had with my long-time friends, I realize we’re much more alike than it seemed back then.
As an adult, I celebrate all kinds of friends, those like me and those not like me at all. At the reunion, I hope to give attention to as many people as possible.
People matter. I’m glad I know that now.
- There are more than two sides to every story. Our family has been through the usual share of hard times. The loss of a child. Multiple moves. Job loss. Disappointment. Betrayal.
And do you know what? So have my classmates. Without knowing many of their stories, I know they’ve faced discouragement, depression, accusation, and more. I know they’ve made mistakes and done things they regret. And I also know they’ve had moments of great delight.
I hope our reunion will be a judgment-free zone. The advantage of forty years means we can look at each other without pretense, without the need to pass judgment and with the desire to listen, to accept, and to celebrate. I’m sad this wasn’t my attitude in high school. But I’m glad it can be today.
- Pursuing your passions brings joy. Like many of my classmates, I’ve changed career tracks since I left school. I kept the same major throughout college and worked in that field until I had my children. My writing work today won’t surprise those who knew me as a child. But I turned away from it in favor of something more practical, reasonable, and realistic.
Dental hygiene was a good career, and I don’t regret it. It helped me learn to talk to people and provided an excellent income. But (as my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, knew—and told me in a pointed note) it wasn’t who I am. It didn’t capitalize on my strengths. It didn’t bring joy.
As my dad told me, some of us get to work at a job we love, and some of us work so we can have the freedom to do what we love after work. Following our hearts can be scary, even dangerous, but it can also bring fulfillment. I’m thankful to be in that place today. Whether during or after work, I hope my friends are there, too.
I know I’ve learned more than four things in forty years, but these have all come to mind over the weeks of reunion-planning.
What have you learned since high school? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
For His glory,