Raise your hand if you still have your high school yearbooks. I’ll bet most people hang onto them out of nostalgia, or for no better reason than to refresh their memories before attending class reunions. I was on the yearbook staff my senior year in high school, though I have not attended a reunion since the twentieth.
I graduated from a large school—more than four hundred in our class. The first two reunions were massive, noisy cocktail parties, with little opportunity for meaningful conversation. I’m still in touch with three of the surviving members from the Class of ’62, and I’ve promised I’ll attend the sixtieth reunion in three years—if I’m still alive and if there’s still enough organizational energy to put one together. The email invitation to the fifty-fifth reunion included a sobering list of classmates who’d reached their ultimate graduation.
When I leaf through the pages of that 1962 yearbook, I’m more absorbed by the photos of teachers than of my fellow students. The first reunion I attended—the tenth—I was disappointed that no teachers were there. Had they even been invited? I finally realized that teachers surely have better things to do than attend class reunions, year after year.
Those teachers’ faces in the yearbook remind me of the lasting impact they’ve had on my life. I’m sad that I never let them know that. They’re most certainly gone by now. I remember running into one teacher, Robert Thornburg, when I was in my thirties. He’d been my eighth grade English teacher, and I’ve never forgotten a comment he made on a theme I wrote. My opening sentence was, “Music is the universal language.” His response in the paper’s margin was, “Says who?” An appropriate challenge for someone headed toward a journalism career.
He seemed to enjoy challenging me, as if he thought I could become something special if I’d try. And I wasn’t the only one. Mr. Thornburg moved from junior high to teach at our high school and, among other things, was yearbook advisor. That’s why I wanted to be on the staff. When I bumped into him (metaphorically) all those years later, I happily told him I was an editor for the Associated Press. He smiled and nodded.
Why didn’t I say, “Your classes and your faith in me have been instrumental to my career” … or why didn’t I simply say, “thank you”? I sure wish I had.
(To celebrate my 75th birthday this month, I’m posting daily stories about the stuff I’ve acquired over a lifetime and can’t let go of. I invite you to consider the stories attached to the stuff you treasure—maybe even share them.)