If Facebook accolades and posted photo evidence from Monarch Park Collegiate’s 50 Year Reunion are any indication, organizers of Saturday’s homecoming of Lions can consider the event a roaring success.
Over the past few days the Facebook group site – Monarch Alumni (In the Beginning) – has been buzzing with photo posts and sentiments of gratitude for an event that reunited old friends from across Canada and the United States.The opportunity to assemble in the hallowed halls of the old alma mater was a nostalgic history test for 40-year-old memories, and a frenzied 100-yard-dash through the school halls to catch up with as many friends as possible in the time available.
The gathering of alumni at the old stomping grounds – four decades later – makes for an interesting social dynamic. Memories of people and events, in some cases, as sharp in the consciousness as if it were yesterday. Some memories lie just under the surface and come rushing back at the prompt of a familiar face or voice. In other cases, memories from forty years ago remain vague, fragmented, or lost entirely – until resurrected from the depths by a friend’s meticulous recount of a shared experience.
I suspect when it comes to high school memories from so many years past, a contributing factor may be the impressionability and sensitivities that prevail for the 14 to 18-year-old crowd. This is a time of life when identities are established. The jockeying for position or status in a scaled down simulation of the society into which we ultimately graduate. It’s a time of experimentation, personal discovery, and the setting for many of life’s firsts. It’s not overly surprising there are some vivid and lasting memories from this impressionable five-year snippet, in the context of a lifetime.
There’s a certain social polarity that develops through the high school years. The jocks and the academics, the outgoing and the shy, the popular and the obscure, the heroes and the villains. We may have settled smoothly into our natural place, or we may have struggled to fit into where we wanted to be. The high school years may well have come with the warmth of intense friendships and loyalties, or the sting of adolescent insensitivity. It’s a formative age where the experience can have a profound life impact. Whatever the case, it is likely safe to assume the people attending Saturday’s reunion have good memories of high school and in our section of the building, nostalgia was running rampant among a crowd of boomers well on their way to sexagenarian status.
For me the reunion was well worth the trip from London. I managed to spend time catching up with many of my close friends from high school and with others whose path had intersected briefly with mine. It seems we make a subconscious allowance for the passage of time. Most people were easily identifiable in spite of the customary changes that come with middle age. We may carry a little more weight, we sport hairstyles that accent foreheads classmates never knew we had, we’ve returned with new hair colours (purchased or natural), and we project wisdom – that may have eluded us before – with a few well-placed character lines. If you were in need of a loaner pair, at any time, there was no shortage of reading glasses, poised and ready for the viewing of family photos. Still, some people appeared to have defied the odds and were scarcely affected by the time-released makeover that forty years of seasoning normally serves up.
It was fun catching up with friends about our respective families, children, and for many, grandchildren. And it was particularly enjoyable reminiscing (and filling in each others blind spots) on the adventures shared all those years ago. Though the mood of the event was mostly one of excitement and joy in reuniting with old friends, forty years takes it’s toll. Shared news of illness, or the loss of friends, family, fellow alumni, and teachers, also brought some sadness and a sobering dose of perspective. I suspect for some, a small amount of comfort was found in words shared or the caring embrace of a longtime friend.
It seems nostalgically apropos that a temporary resumption of the character roles we wore back then takes place at such gatherings. However we may have changed over the years, when we reunite, the comics of old tend to re-emerge to provide some laughs, the jocks suck in their bellies and recount tales of glory, the cool kids of the day still tend to draw the biggest crowds. But there are also examples of the change forty years of life experience can have on us. The shy returning with impressive interpersonal poise and confidence they wish they’d had back then. The aloof of the day, now tempered and among the more inclusive and interested as they chat with people they wish they’d gotten to know better.
It was also great to reconnect with teachers, who for many of us susceptible East End Toronto adolescents, were more of a positive life influence than they know. I had the chance to speak with a couple who were personal role models and whose influence and example has resonated with me for a lifetime. It’s also gratifying to know that in spite of the legions of students they guided through the system, many teachers remember the details of the times and interactions with their students, just as well as we do. Though it may not have seemed like it at the time, many were only a handful of years older than we were. Saturday, a small group of us were lucky enough to happen upon the establishment the teachers were visiting for lunch. There, we had great chats with Gary and Brenda Jobe, Dave Ross, Mary Card, Dave Kerr, Todd Reynolds, and many others.
I’m glad I attended the celebration and appreciated the time I was able to spend with assorted friends. In looking through some of the photographs, I’ve spotted people I either didn’t see, or may have inadvertently walked right past in the crowds. I suppose there is always the 60th!
Many thanks to the organizers and volunteers who pulled it all together and made a very special milestone, a very special day.