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High school reunions — time, distance can’t cut wire of coming of age together

High school class reunions are like a box of chocolates. You don’t know what you’ve got until you open them.

If the reunion is the 50th – excuse me, 50th plus one, courtesy of the pandemic – there is an amazing amount of chocolate to open.

The quizzical part every five years changes. You start out wondering who is married, who is not, who got the job they wanted and who did not in the 20s to who has kids at home and how we all are progressing along a professional ladder in the 30s and 40s to grandkids and health situations and where everyone has planted roots in the 50s to who is retired, who is not, who wants to retire and who does not in the 60s.

The memoriam table at the Williamsport Area High School Class of 1971 reunion told a sobering tale of too many gone far too soon. That’s one of the reasons a class of more than 700 that I believe was the largest in school history had an attendance in the mid 100s last weekend.

And unlike our elders, we came of age at a time when people no longer grew up, were educated, worked and lived in the same place all their lives. To quote Carole King, “doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” At our table sat classmates living in Florida and Texas. I renewed acquaintances with a classmate living in Arizona.

But here’s the thing about the box of chocolates that is the class of ’71. With a few exceptions, we have lived lives apart, checking back in every five years. But we have been making choices on the same winding, complex path of decision making.

And we are bound by the common threads of when we grew up. We grew up as the last graduating class in a building deemed worn out, overcrowded and replaceable – which today serves as the restored Klump Academic Center of Pennsylvania College of Technology. It was there that we started to find out who we were.

Time and distance cannot sever the lifelong cable wire that coming of age together is. The proof is that we became friends last week with a classmate from Florida I never knew in high school. When the class numbers more than 700 and you have four minutes to get from the fourth floor algebra class to phys ed in the gym across the traffic of West Third Street, your circle of socialization is somewhat predetermined. But on Saturday night, she needed someone to sit with at dinner. By the end of the evening we were sharing high school, professional and life stories like we had grown up on each other’s back porches – because we share a time, a place and that common coming of age.

Some of us did a lot of what we planned to do back in 1971, but probably more of us became tethered to a zig zag path of choices and decisions that led us to this point.

All of us learned what Dr. Delgalvis, our stern German teacher, told us – “life is hard.”

How correct he was.

He was telling us that atg a time of a growing protest movement, an unpopular war, a burgeoning, dangerous drug culture, an environmental awakening, and unprecedented social change. We were part of an era of upheaval and rebellion foreign to our parents.

In the intervening years, we have learned our parents were not wrong about everything. We have each navigated the “life is hard” chapters in our own way, making lifestyle, political, economic and family decisions that differ greatly among more than 700 people.

But there we were Saturday night, back together again, somewhat proud survivors of life’s maze of choices.

We sat at our tables – star basketball and football players from long ago, the insanely reliable classmates who coordinate these events, Little League opponents rehashing my unique pitching delivery and classmates we had hoped to reconnect with – joined by our communal experience 51 years ago.

We laughed a lot and did our best on the dance floor, with an energy injection from the music of our era, the best music there has ever been. (This is not up for debate.)

A few days later, you assess the weekend box of chocolates you have consumed.

Hopefully, your class reunion leaves you with the same reflection mine did – grateful for the time I grew up in, the school I went to and the classmates who were there. And immensely proud at how they have developed into a solid piece of our world.

We did not solve every problem. We thought we could, but no one does that. However, we survived productively without selling out the hearts and souls we developed at that very crowded school on West Third Street a half century ago.

Dave Troisi is the Sun-Gazette’s retired editor.

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