No Name tags required
Driving familiar streets of Adelaide on Saturday; the names and the faces on buildings have changed – yet the roads still head in the same directions. Names are tags, that sometimes attempt to label, but are generally used to represent “things”, but they are not who we are nor indicate directions we choose in life.
At my first school reunion, name tags were mandatory even as we recognised faces, physical expressions and postures, voices and groupings. Old school nick names that once sounded edgy were now embarrasing and difficult to explain to non-old scholar partners – and the girls who chose to change their maiden names to unknown surnames have only changed in name; not dramatically in personality.
A reunion of this nature is unique life experience. Not one to be missed. It is surprising that it is rarely explored by art; and where nostalgia is thematic, it seems comical rather than cathartic.
It was difficult to tell: was Kevin Richardson, the current Headmaster of Immanuel College, joking when he said he “had checked around” on the class of 1985? I am sure the uncovered opinions of our group would have been mixed. The pride of this school, and any private school, is it facilities. These are paramount in attracting a steady stream of revenue – and they express the educational will of the teaching community. Kevin, coming from a technology background in teaching; seems to have swung Immanuel down the road of modern teaching techniques – a lesson my son’s techno-phobic school could learn.
In the tour of the school grounds, ably spruiked by Kevin with doors unlocked by the famous non-mirrored sunglassed Mr Dawes; one of the few members of administration staff we recognised with some mixed fondness; we all realised that the scale of the operation has changed. As has the method of delivery of classes from our day. Old school: Whiteboards were the mod-device in 1985. New school: 1024×768 LCD projectors. Chalk dust is as ancient as slate boards and wooden hinged desks. The number of vocational classes, and seemingly focus, out weighs the pure academic classes.
Our class of 1985 was sandwiched between the swot-heavy classes of 1983/4 and the active and engaged class of 1986. Our year was the class that experimented with the application of the Pareto principle as it came to high school education. For 80% of the class, 20% of the effort was applied to schoolwork. The other 80% of the time was spent in other activities which ultimately had a greater positive outcome on who they became.
The attendence rate directly reflected the class Pareto principle. Roughly 80% of the class turned up. For a minority, it was the first time they were drinking alcohol on school grounds in the shadow of the former boarding houses. Those who were not there were remembered in words and stories. Classic events, bustups, inadvertent animal sacrifice and pairings reanimated personalities. Many stories, left unsaid and untouched, remain in the collective experiences.
“So what have you been up to?”, when first asked, is a frightening question. Stupidly and strangely, I had not prepared a PR talk track and 15 second elevator pitch to intelligently answer this question; to achieve any formal goals of comparison. Mumbling some words; attempting not to be a bloke and focus only on the work and provide an element of family colour; yet knowing that this aspect provides the shapes that explains who you have evolved into.
Twenty years is a perfect interval to reconnect with old school acquaintances. There has been more “after school life” that outweighs the ackwardness of of the teenager that lives inside us all. Family, experiences, relationships, travel and raw maturity provides an ability to shroud the embarrassment with intruiging small talk to fill 6-7 hours.
Yes, Immanuel is the school that Lleyton Hewitt attended; the sheer number of tennis courts is probably the core reason he chose the school. Yes, this class sprouted a Miss Australia. restauranteurs, respected tradesmen, vegetable based protein manufacturers, standard grey-haired business-types, two PhDs and a bevy of dedicated mothers of largish broods. Success, if gauged only by an ability for self-support and an ability to not be a burden on others – has been kind to this class.
According to Dawkin’s, “The Selfish Gene”, the meaning of life is to re-spawn more life and perpetuate DNA. Therefore, the topic parenthood was usually an immediate question to assist in generating conversation. Many had braved three children; others speak of staying at home with their children, and working “0.8” weeks. Adelaide, in comparison to Sydney, is the perfect location for detuning from a pure career ladder of a economically fulfilling yet soul draining lifestyle.
Putting it scientifically, the desire to reproduce, partner and perpetuate DNA is a driver close to the surface of all teenagers. Another unspoken activity at reunions is the evalutation of our teenage crushes/hormones/pairings to determine if our mental wiring had chosen an appropriate potential mate. A few had made very appropriate choices of partners early. A surprising few were single.
Many of the class have started to spawn their own future students. There is a surprisingly large number of the group who have chosen to live in the Immanuel side of town, and send their children to the school. There is some business planner at the Immanuel that must model these figures with an eye to future revenue from old scholar parents. As a parent, it’s difficult enough to converse with your child’s teachers, let alone in send your children to a school you attended in your distant youth.
Another measurement of success is living up to the spark of potential first shown at school. I have always wondered if teachers can foretell the potential of the students in their class; and live in wonder of their results. Not enough teachers from our time arrived to ask this question and test the hypothesis.
Mr Volk, or should I say “Noel”, popped over to say hello. His first question is a question that will echo for some time: so are you a journalist or in IT? There was an air of inferiority on “IT”, or at least I wasn’t living up to a previously unforseen potential. Personally, I never viewed doing the school’s magazine as a journalistic job; nor as it as a path to future career success. English wasn’t a subject I felt passionately about to complete in Year 12/Matric, but it was a small moment of pride seeing people reading a 1985 Echo that contains your fingerprints. I sort of fell into the magazine job in an vain-glorious effort towards self-promotion. Everyone else on the team did the hard yards. That is why IT is the perfect home for me; standing on the shoulders of giants.
The age from 12 to 17 is difficult for all. Apart from the obvious physical changes, our worldview emerges yet it seems the fundamental nature of people is there to see. Look at a 16/17 year old, and you will see 80% of their future self. Yes, there are many experiences and more education to come – but the adult they are to become is just there. There are more than just shadows and echoes of their school self in the adults I met.
This class reunion, for me, was more than a mechanism for measuring our personal life choices against our peers – it was a good cathartic mechanism for extinguishing regret. Rather than dwelling on the past, it permits us to refind old friends and let the intervening years of disconnect fall away. These are classic pure friends that are untainted by the mud of a working relationship and the shared age group of our collective children.
If anything was to be learnt from this weekend’s experience, is that I will become a better parent of a teenager – and see the future potential in the sparks of the next few years; the mirror of others and the memories of life blurred by time has been cleared a little – and I am able to lay a collection of personal mnenomic demons to rest.