(Me and my future husband in the good old days)
In my day, there were two high schools in this town; One on the west side, one on the east side. The rivalry ran deep. There weren't charter schools around to muddy the water. There was fierce loyalty to either black and gold or purple and white. For the record, this is black and gold territory. If you're from the other side of the river, you're welcome to read on, because I'm a bigger, better adult now. But I don't want to hear any smack talk because my high school is better than yours.
As I look back on my high school days I try to decipher what, exactly, made the experience a good one. When so many kids drop out, hate school, or come out with big emotional scars from the typical teen drama that plays out in the hallways, how did I come out relatively unscathed? How did my experience build me up and prepare me for the world? Where did I get the confidence I needed to take the next step, leave this two-school town, move to San Francisco and launch my life?
Clearly there were many variables at play that made my particular experience a positive one. I had a group of friends that made (mostly) good choices. We all got (relatively) good grades, we didn't do drugs and (usually) respected our parents. My parents provided just the right mix of supervision and freedom to allow me to make some mistakes (but not really huge ones), live with the consequences and move on. And there was music. A good portion of my high school days (and nights) were spent in the music hall with some pretty fantastic teachers.
(Christmas Concert, 1990. Big hair was the STYLE, people)
Last night was their bon voyage party. It was a time for alumni, parents and friends to come together and attempt to show adequate appreciation for two very deserving professionals. It wasn't a fancy affair. There were no black ties, banquet dinners or lengthy speeches. We gathered at the park, reminisced, and made music together one last time.
As I sat on the lawn, scanning the crowd for some alumni from my early 1990's era, I wondered if this was enough. Was this little concert in the park really the appropriate retirement party for these two small town celebrities? Shouldn't there be more people, elaborate decorations, champagne and valet parking?
Really, the answer is no. There shouldn't have been more anything. The party was perfect.
It was perfect because the guests of honor got to enjoy the fruits of their labor without actually laboring through rehearsals with unruly teenagers. It was perfect because we came together in a space and made it our own. We supported the (sometimes rusty) performers on stage and marveled at the true talent that shone through. We had time to socialize, to reminisce, to listen, and appreciate. Old friends reconnected and strangers found a common bond.
It was casual, comfortable and come-as-you-are.
And so it was in the music hall.
Mr. Neece and Mrs. Devine gave us all many gifts. They pushed us to excel. They taught us the power of teamwork. They cultivated our musical talents and made us believe we could dominate the stage. Any stage. In any town. We were the best. But perhaps most importantly, they gave us a safe space where we were accepted, appreciated and given the freedom to be ourselves. In the uncertain, uncomfortable world of high school, that was perhaps the greatest gift they could have given. And I am better for it.