My high school reunion is this weekend. We are the class of 1999 and even 20 years later I still enjoy a juvenile spark of boastful pride at the thought of the classes close to us in age being a little jealous that we had the coolest graduation anthem, thanks to Prince. “They say two thousand zero zero party over, oops out of time, so tonight I’m gonna party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine.”
In the eyes of a bunch of 18-year-olds—you just can’t top that. Although, my sister did often remind me that since 2001 is considered the actual first year of the new millennium—her graduating class had something to hang its hat on as well. But Prince didn’t write a hit song about the year ‘two thousand zero one,’ did he?
Last spring, a friend asked me if I knew when our reunion would be held. I told her I would find out and my inquiry to the alumni relations coordinator promptly got me named ‘point person’ for planning the reunion. This job is technically supposed to fall to the class president but he’s neck-deep in politics in D.C. and unable to organize caterers and photo booth props from afar. He will be at the reunion though, and I will give him hell—he could take it from me 20 years ago so I’m assuming a decade or so in D.C. has only improved upon that.
I may be a sucker but I’m no dummy, so I quickly tagged two of the smartest and most organized people in our class to help me. Thanks, Staci and Mark—I owe you. An accountant and a tax attorney. I told you I’m not dumb. With the help of a few other alumni from our class, we’ve cobbled together a party with great food and live music at a very cool venue. None of which would have happened if I had remained the lone ranger ‘point person.’
While I can’t speak for the others who’ve helped, planning the party for me has meant walking a very narrow path between feeling ‘too cool’ for a reunion and feeling embarrassed that I care enough to be willing to plan it. Nobody wants to be the goober who can’t wait to relive the glory days of high school, but grown-ups who are ‘too cool’ for such things can be a drag as well.
I didn’t have a lot of ‘glory days’ in high school—I wasn’t the most popular, the most athletic, the prettiest, or the smartest. I also wasn’t the dorkiest, the dumbest, or the most bullied. I lived somewhere in the middle of the high school social strata without the pressures of excellence in everything or the stresses of struggling academically or socially. I didn’t struggle athletically either because I saw the writing on the wall when I didn’t make the eighth-grade basketball team and hung up my sneakers.
Athleticism was not my gift from the Lord, and I’ve made peace with that—more peace than my husband has who still bemoans the fact that I step with the wrong foot when I throw a ball. I’ve been banned from practicing with our kids to prevent my passing on of bad habits.
Back in the dark ages of my junior high years, there weren’t as many electives available to eighth grade girls who weren’t the next Morgan William as there are now, so I ended up in chorus. I’m a worse singer than I am thrower and it wasn’t until I was a freshman in college that I found out that I wasn’t the only one who knew this. My parents came to visit me at college and took me and a bunch of my new friends out to dinner. I don’t remember how the telling of this story came about, but by the end of the night, my mom was telling them all how terrible I was in chorus. ‘She was so bad that the teacher came to me and asked if maybe Elizabeth wouldn’t enjoy taking P.E. instead.’ Insert uproarious laughter from my new besties. ‘I said to her, “She’s only in chorus because she didn’t make the basketball team and you want me to tell her she’s getting booted from the choir that you don’t even have to try out for?” I told her no thanks; Elizabeth would stay right where she was making a joyful sound unto the Lord.’
I’m so glad I didn’t know this story prior to a late night over delicious food, (Anthony’s in West Point, food so good it can take the sting out of even the most traumatizing of childhood stories) with new friends that liked me even better for almost being a choral music flunk out. I knew I was a horrible singer but eighth grade me could not have handled that kind of rejection on the heels of not making the basketball team. I mean—who gets kicked out of a volunteer choir? Me. Almost.
Also, during eighth grade, I made pitiful grades in English. This was surprising to my parents since I had always done well in reading and English. My theory is that it was the combination of English that year being more grammar and punctuation (which I still stink at) than studying literature (which I loved even then) as well as eighth grade being a funky year for me emotionally and socially.
I mean—I’m pretty sure it is for everyone but my friends who were into cheerleading were now on the junior high squad, the sporty-types were on their respective teams, and I was still trying to figure out what my ‘thing’ was going to be. I got my English grade up by the end of the year but not high enough to put me in consideration for Honors English in ninth grade. This was fine because after making Cs and Ds the first couple months in English—I was thrilled with my B for the year.
By the end of the first week of ninth grade, the newly hired Mr. Renberg had me stay after my un-Honors English class to ask me a question, ‘What are you doing in this class? Why are you not in Honors English?’ I told him my grades in eighth hadn’t been good enough for that and he waved that off like a minor annoyance. English class that year had begun in my wheelhouse—reading and analyzing literature. I was good at this and I knew I was. He knew I knew I was too, but he kept pointing out the reasons why I should be in Honors English instead of his class and I lapped it up.
After a year of up and down grades in eighth grade English—I had almost begun to believe that English wasn’t my ‘thing’ academically. It was yet another blow to my tween self-esteem and could easily have made me quit trying to find my ‘thing.’ Right as that option was presenting itself to me—here came a teacher telling me I was too smart to be in his class. Also, he was, is, a sarcastic, smart ass with an excellent vocabulary—so he spoke my language and managed to get his point across without setting off my ‘goobiness detector.’ He made arrangements for me to catch up over the summer and join Honors English in 10th grade. I went on to take A.P. English in 11th and 12th and earn college credits both of those years.
In 10th grade, I convinced somebody to let me start taking creative writing a year earlier than you were technically allowed to sign up for it. I don’t know who authorized this exception—maybe it was the now long-gone choral music teacher who wanted to make sure I didn’t end up croaking and warbling on the back row of her altos again—probably it was Mrs. Wilson, the creative writing teacher. She didn’t have much reason to agree to it; I hadn’t published the great American novel over summer vacation but her decision to allow it was the difference in me feeling lost another year or not. I wasn’t into cheerleading or dancing with the drill team, my Sporty Spice dreams had been crushed, and show choir was off the table since it required the skills of singing and dancing in a very athletic way. I found my ‘thing’ in creative writing and working on the literary magazine we published each year.
Being the editor of the literary magazine doesn’t earn you many points socially, no matter how many awards it won—and we did win some awards statewide and regionally. (See how I dropped that in there? Insecure, eighth grade me is still in there, looking for a little praise.) Creative writing may not have been the coolest thing, but it was my thing and it kept me from looking in less than ideal places for belonging.
Looking back, I like the place I made for myself in high school. I made friends that I still talk to every day, some I wish I talked to more, and a few I miss having in my daily life the way we all were in high school and occasionally wonder how we could have been living all this life without each other being a part of it.
In high school, we all occasionally made the mistake of trying to be too cool for things and we missed out on stuff because of it. Most of the time, my goobiness detector is still way too sensitive; but looking forward to seeing people I spent the most formative, tumultuous, and carefree years of my life with isn’t triggering that alarm. If someone breaks out in the school song—I won’t join in. Partly because I don’t know if we had a school song and don’t know the words if we did; partly because—as has been firmly established—I can’t sing; and partly because even my excitement over seeing friends has its limits and I am definitely too cool for that. And while I doubt the bluegrass band we’ve hired for the party will have it on their set list, I hope ‘1999’ finds its way to the speakers during a break because I will never be too cool for Prince.
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.