I hated high school. There is no better, more succinct way to phrase it. Those naturally volatile years of my life coincided with volatile years in our society. It was a time when youth questioned and rebelled against everything and I was right in the middle of it all. I questioned authority, religion and parental expectations and developed a type of sarcasm and skepticism I employ to this day.
I was one of those nerdy “picked last for teams” guys who looked as goofy and awkward as I felt at the time. I reached my present 5’11” height as a freshman, which means I towered over my classmates, making it difficult to be as invisible as I wanted to be. To make matters worse, I was smart and did well in class during my freshman and sophomore years, something I’d respect now but hated then because it made me stand out even more. My junior and senior years were filled with doubt, distraction and lack of motivation and I nearly ‘flunked’ out. My final grade ranking upon graduation was dead center: half finished ahead of me, half behind me.
This is on my mind today because I just looked at the newly digitized version of an old high school yearbook online. My high school has just begun this process and only my freshman year is on the site so far (background: Catholic schools then were 8 years of elementary and 4 year of high school; no middle school). I did not buy any yearbooks back then, so this is my first exposure to the old pictures and captions and I am not even sure why I decided to look it up today.
Admittedly there are two aspects of high school life that I did like; both had a positive influence on me and I cherish to this day.
One is my high school girlfriend. I was late to the dating party; my first date with her was during fall of senior year and that was only my second date ever. I had a couple of dates with other girls that fall but pretty soon she and I were inseparable. Did I mention she was hot? I still don’t know how I got such a fun, great looking girlfriend then. Our relationship only survived partway into college but our friendship still exists. We are in touch by email or text once or twice a week and in person for lunch every year or two. And she still looks good, by the way.
The other good part of high school was the band. Despite my shyness I had the balls to walk into the band hall during my first or second week and ask the director if they offered music lessons. Most band members already knew how to play but if the lineup was short on any instruments, they would teach. We settled on trombone, partly because of my height and long arms and partly because the only other options were flute and French horn. I spent most of the first year learning and the remaining three years playing. Music was already a big part of my life. Learning to play an instrument enhanced my appreciation, expanded my music tastes and helped reduce my shyness. By senior year I was in the concert band, the marching band and a smaller jazz-based ensemble. I even directed a few times at basketball games and became the music librarian, developing a few leadership and organizational skills along the way.
I will not share my geeky freshman portrait but there is a chance that I’m one of the trombone players in the photo above. I honestly don’t remember when I started practicing with the marching band and I can’t tell if that’s me in there or not. My school is planning to digitize a new yearbook each year, so it’ll be three more years before I stumble across my senior pic, which is probably better than the others (translation: less goofy looking).
Decades have a tendency to soften painful memories of a jagged youth so in a way I am glad I looked up this yearbook. Plenty of bullshit and drama has filled my life but inside I am about as grounded as a person can be and I reluctantly give some of that credit to my high school experience.